At an art exhibition, a fifteen-year-old girl could not walk away from Gare Saint Lazare, a painting from 1877 by Claude Monet. She was overwhelmed by the energy of the painting and the art museum that seemed to capture the artist. She was deeply touched by the eternal value that an already deceased artist could give to people generations after generations. That moment, she promised herself she would one day become an influential artist who could create a permanent artistic value for human beings.
Ten years later in the year 2008, the same girl opened her first exhibition, the “Sealed Smile” series, at the Young Gallery. Although she is now a renowned young artist, Kim Ji-hee (’07, Korean Painting) says choosing art as her major and main path of life was not easy.
“Not a single person in my family or relatives had anything to do with art,” Kim said. “My family opposed my becoming an artist and I received no support or advice from them.”
She herself knew that an artist’s life could be unstable and “success” might not come to her.
“However, I wanted to live for permanent values rather than a temporary obsession or success,” Kim said.
Once Kim made up her mind, she took on the responsibility to become a “good artist” who can provide the same value to others as she herself received when she was just fifteen. She wanted people to have moving moments through her paintings.
A majority of her art pieces deal with the superficial persona of modern people displayed during communicating.
“Modern people have ‘sealed smiles,’” Kim said. “In my painting, people seem like they are smiling but in close observation, they have tears in their eyes. I tried to catch that aspect of modern people who are lonely even amidst a crowd and smiling on the outside but hiding their actual feelings inside.”
She sometimes describes modern people as a diamond or cactus, as those which traps water inside itself and tries to protect it from others with thorns.
Since her first exhibition, Kim has held five more solo exhibitions and over a hundred group exhibitions in various cities like Tokyo, Beijing, New York, Miami, Hong Kong, Cologne and Long Beach.
A multi-creator as well as an artist, Kim collaborated with the cosmetic brand Missha under the title of “Missha with Kim Jihee.” For Girls Generation, a Korean pop girl group, she painted on the members’ performance clothes for their title track “I got a boy.”
Also in 2012, Kim wrote two best seller essay collections “29 Kim Ji-hee, Living Like a Painting” and “Draw Like Life.” The same year, she was the youngest to be awarded the Chung-Jark Art award, an award given to capable artists.
Although some might consider her to have succeeded fairly early at a young age, the five or six years after her graduation from graduate school until now have been so compressed and intense that they seem to have been long years for her.
“Not a day went by without me holding a brush to paint,” Kim said. “I promised myself to paint at least four hours a day no matter what. After a long day when I got back at 1 a.m., I would paint until 4 to 5 a.m. and sleep for about two hours before heading out the next day.”
Soon, her promise became a habit and she acquired a belief that she would never put down her brush during her life. Years of painting have given her confidence and made her a stronger person, which in turn helped her deal with other people’s stereotypes toward her as a young female artist.
“There are a lot of prejudices against me as a young female artist,” Kim said. “Some people say I will stop painting once I get married and others say I am too young to be famous and my fame will not last long.”
When Kim encounters these kinds of rootless rumors circulating, she believes that her steady efforts will solve these problems time after time.
“At the same time, there are a lot of people out there supporting me and loving my paintings,” Kim said. “I thank them for the support and it keeps me going.”
As for Ewha students, Kim hopes that they will lead an active university life rather than live as passive students.
“Cramming is enough for high school,” Kim said. “Do not be flustered by grade point averages, but try to discover the treasure of yourself, of what you want and never underestimate yourself. Once you find your treasure, the power and passion that you have for that goal will be supernaturally strong.”