art we love
Finding balance with Yon Yi Sohn
Yon Yi Sohn’s artistic practice primarily explores the delicate balance between repetitive work and spontaneity. Synthesizing the teachings of Stoicism and Zen Buddhism with mathematical concepts, Yon Yi creates minimalist compositions that rejoice in the tension between geometric symmetry and natural variation. Likewise, his work is influenced by his childhood in South Korea and reflects a philosophical approach to the modern condition.
Currently based in New Zealand, Yon Yi has a variety of degrees in various fields, including a master’s degree in painting. She has also participated in numerous juried and group shows in London and New Zealand.
Tell us who you are and what you do. What is your past? what is your thought?
Originally from South Korea, I have lived and worked in different parts of the world. I worked in the field of marketing communications for many years in Hong Kong before resuming my early interests in drawing and painting. I have a BA in English from Korea University in Seoul, an MA in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, a Diploma in International Advertising, a Certificate in Art and Design from the University of Hong Kong, a BFA from Massey University from Wellington in New Zealand, and most recently an MA in Painting from the Royal College of Art in the UK.
What is your work trying to say? What are the main themes you pursue in your work? Can you share an example of a job that demonstrates this?
Balance, mathematical beauty, geometric elegance. Deliberation and spontaneity. Freedom within self-imposed rules and systems. I was raised in Korea with Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian teachings and a stoic attitude throughout my childhood. I think I am now returning to these principles as I approach the end of my life, even after spending most of my adult life in Western society. I consider my work more like a daily ritual, similar to Zen meditation exercises, mixing colors and applying them repeatedly, almost mechanically, or a Zen dialogue. I often find myself questioning and responding to the work.
Can you explain your process to create a work from start to finish?
My work usually starts with a specific plan; however, I leave room to improvise and respond to how the image develops throughout the process. Mixing primary colors to make a neutral gray, then adding thin layers of gray until certain patterns emerge, I finish the job by enhancing those emerging shapes and lines with subtle colors. It is a kind of division of space through the arrangement of colours, analogous and complementary, lines and shapes, a meditation on angles and emerging colours, an experiment in simplicity. Although my intent is balance and balance, I sometimes look for an element of instability in the final work. I think this delicate tension is also a reflection of how our lives unfold on a day-to-day basis. In my works, there is joy in drawing simple lines and observing and participating in how the lines interact and correspond.
Who are your biggest influences and why?
My biggest influences are Agnes Martin for her soft, gentle and meditative works, and Gerhard Richter, for his attitude of continuous reinvention and development.
How do you comment on your work on current social and political issues?
I believe that many social and political problems today are partly because we have forgotten to be receptive and open in our response to the problems and situations around us. I would say my work is more of a philosophical approach to current issues, created with acceptance, tolerance, patience, understanding, though not necessarily agreement, and acknowledgment of differences.
How do you expect viewers to respond to your works? What do you want them to feel?
My work further facilitates a relationship between the storyteller and the story itself. This process, in theory, could be endless. The goal may be to reach a state of aesthetic sublime, where the process and the image are reciprocal. However, it is the journey there that matters to me. I hope my works convey that feeling to viewers.
Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?
I prefer to work with music, especially classical music. The system and logic in the composition, harmonies, themes and variations of classical music help rhythmic interference patterns in my work, resulting in a kind of synesthetic play of colours. Music is a mathematical algorithm, says Yuval Noah Harari in his 2015 book Homo Deus. I think I can relate to that.
Who are your favorite writers?
Nikos Kazantzakis book zorba the greek He talks about freedom, love, happiness and being a recipient of nature and harmony in a positive and participatory way. I am currently reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book. Homo Deus for the second time: an excellent summary of humanism, individual freedom and autonomy. I think I’m kind of a liberal humanist in that sense.
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