It looks pleasant, but it’s just not unpleasant, it looks happy, but it’s just not unhappy. It is hard to say who exactly these people are with an uncomfortable, unidentified look, but they are just ordinary us, me or your face who are caught somewhere in between a rock and a hard place. _ARTIST KAPPAO
WRITE Nari Park PHOTOGRAPHY Dong-Oh Kim(DO STUDIO)
Artist Kappao talks about human’s relations in modern society through the use of precarious and weighty characters which seem to be about to fall forward with an expressionless and dull appearance. That is why there are so many ‘You and I, We and You’ in Kappao’s studio.
The eyes, filled with sleepiness, seem about to shut. But when we look down, the ‘O’ shape of the mouth seems to be centered, giving us an unfailing twist. The two cheeks that are red as if angry, the ‘-‘ shape of mouth calmly closed, and the expression of the hard to understand person stares into the air are also impressive. The mysterious characters who do not easily show emotions become objects which can be displayed on the shelf, and when you do drawing work with a pencil on cement, then a complete piece of painting is born. When you trim and define the contours with clay, the range of variation is quite deep giving various ceramic shapes from bowls to stools. The art language of Kappao such as sculpture, drawing, designed furniture, and magnetic accessories, and others, is brave and mysterious. She is an artist who fits quite well with the current times, when the area cannot be defined by one word and various fields reach consilience. ‘I don’t like to be defined in one word. I don’t think I have any special modifier to be called an artist.’ There are many similar factors glimpsed in Kappao’s character.
She is better known as her pseudonym ‘Kappao’ than her real name Myungshin Ko, and she is a very popular artist whose works are sold as soon as they go to the public. Because her various works are not defined uniformly and use unique characters making her works highly popular. The major works that were recently shown in the Aki Gallery in Art Busan were sold early on the opening day, and she attracted a huge following last year at her solo exhibition <Little Forest> in Lotte Department Store and Younhyun Trading Art Market. The witty installation works, which use natural materials such as old timber and cotton, centering on ceramic works with ‘Taste’, has the power of drawing attention to the artist at the boundary between crafts and arts.
Animal-like humans and human-like animals coexist together in the studio of the artist Kappao, who lives with two cats. The cat ‘Taeyang’ is the object of her inspiration and the companion of her work.
You graduated from Accademia Di Belle Arti Di, famous for architecture, in Milan, Italy. I think you would have had a lot of chances to study in Korea, I wonder why you decided to study abroad.
There are subjects called decorazione (decoration) in Italian. It can be interpreted as ‘Decorative Arts’ as a way to say it in Korean. There were four professors in charge of this subject and each of them had different tendencies, so I liked the environment where I learned various detailed subject. I evenly dealt with wood, stone and so on little by little.
How was your life in Italy?
It was a hard process for me to find something that I could say was ‘mine’, because I mostly worked on crafts focusing on bowls in Korea. I suffered under the pressure that I seemed needing to add some difficult concept, so I lost interest in the work itself. When the summer break in the first semester of my second grade, I thought ‘This is not going to work.’ So I stayed in Milan while everyone returned to their hometown and focused on my work. I commuted to the office every single day for three or four months, and I made my mind that I should just work on what I really wanted to do. These current works were born in that time. When the school began again, I showed my works to my professor. And the professor said, ‘You finally found yours.’
This is the wood magnetic object she presented while studying in Milan, Italy. This work, painted in her own style on old timber, talks about contemporary sociality with diverse humanity. By adding magnetics to the later stages of the work, she developed the initial work so that it can be freely attached to iron. On the right, these are the works filled the black cabinet in her studio.
There is a very interesting story hidden in the magnetic objects painted on the cut wood. I wonder about the first reaction in Milan.
It was a huge installation work where I had to make hundreds of wooden objects that filled the exterior walls of the exhibition. I put nails one by one in order to fix them on the wall, and when I continued the work, I found a way to attach magnets in the trees like I do today.
I think this is the most frequently asked question. Why do you do this ‘figure’ work that highlighted humans facial expressions?
It may sound cliché, but I wanted to tell something like the feeling of lonely modern humans. The stories about many relationships between people who live in this complicated modern society, enter into relations with people, keep ‘enough distance’ to avoid but not be alienated entirely, and mixed with them excessively. I express it through figures that are subtle and do not easily reveal their face. I don’t explain exactly as an artist because the feeling of each work depends on the viewers. I think it is fun that each viewer interprets the way they feel.
The sculpture has an image of ‘half-man and half-beast’. It also has a strong, grotesque feeling.
Many people ask me about the gender of the figure, and whether it is human or animal. However, I think it seems important to be a ‘person’, setting aside woman and man. I think as I continued to do my work, my works naturally formed a gender exclusion.
Every single sculpture has a different facial expression. I assume that you have some type of formula to design facial expressions when you work tacitly.
You’re right. Most of my figures have an unstable structure with small hands and feet. The spectators feel anxiety like this: ‘Can the kid even stand?’, ‘It looks like the head will fall forward.’ When I continued to expand thinking about people, I ended up thinking, ‘aren’t we all trivial?’, ‘If human beings become humble.’ Frankly, we are not some great creature. Everyone pretends to be adults, but we are all immature. I draw eyes slightly small and long or I put emotion into the shape of mouth. There are variety hair styles from bald to 5:5 part and so on. I like improvisation, so I skip the preliminary sketch and get straight to work. Even though I try to make each character look similar, they are slightly and subtly different. The reason why my works don’t look straight and seem that something is loose is in order to give the feeling that they are made by hand.
What is your personal preference among the characters with various facial expressions?
My personal preference are figures that have a sense of ‘half-man and half-beast’. Nowadays, I am interested in the characters looking like humans and animals at the same time. This work makes me think that we are not so different from animals.
Where did you get the inspiration for the basic framework of your work in which people meet each other and make a group and a community?
I think I always had a lot of interest in people. Ironically, I hate to get too much attention, but I am also afraid of being alienated. I think I set a discreet distance from others, and I imagine to myself, ‘Why did this person have such a personality?’, ‘What happened in that person’s childhood?’ and I can blend into society.
You have used various material properties such as clay, wood, pencil, paint, etc. What would you choose as especially your favorite?
I like the flexibility of clay. The property of clay, which at first indulges all the sense of fingertips, goes through the process of going and coming back from the kiln several times and finally give out a solid light. And I like the comfortable feeling when I touch clay Actually, the process is complicated. Kneading, forming, drying, biscuit firing, and glazing. I have tried many genres so far and I want to continue to do so. My main field is ceramics, but I think I don’t want to put a limit on it. There is always a person who asks me,’ What genre of artist do you want to be called?’, but I just want to be the artist ‘Kappao’.
The artist, who draws with pencils and colored pencils on the cemented canvas, enjoys improvised coloring. The work plane, in which unknown mathematical symbols and characters within formative object freely coexist, is created like this.
Please tell us if you have some challenges you want to do in the future.
Actually, I have many dreams I want to do in my next life. Singer-songwriter and novelist. If I have an opportunity, I would like to publish a book. I don’t have the talent to do that, but I can vaguely imagine it. Like an artbook in which I keep my works. Come to think of it, artists, novelists, and musicians are all creators. I don’t know why I keep fighting with ‘Me’. It would be better to get along with myself (laugh).
KAPPAO | CONTEMPORARY ART
She is better known with her pseudonym ‘Kappao’ than with her real name Myungshin Ko. She graduated from the Department of Industrial Design at Jeju National University and majored in Decoration at Brera National Academy in Milan, Italy. The artist, who used to make objects in clay used in the basic mold of ceramics, started in earnest to keep working on multi-tasks in ‘Kappao’s style’ after returning from her study in Italy. She works with the motifs of people’s subtle facial expressions which can be interpreted in dual meaning like expressionless or angry, happy or unpleasant. While showing a complex, multilateral figurative language including wooden magnetic, ceramic stool, object, drawing, etc., she has been introducing ‘Kappao’s style’ to the art scene in Korea in recent years. Since she showed her work at the Brera National Academy, Milan in 2008, she has met various collectors in Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, and other cities. Her solo exhibitions are <The Uneasy Truth> at the White Gallery, Milan, Italy, <Nobody knows me> at BADA design/atelier, Seoul, Korea and many other. She also participated in lots of fairs and group exhibitions such as Milan Design Week, Asia Contemporary Art Show, Hong Kong (2013), KIAF SEOUL (2013), Art Busan (2019) and so on, and communicates with fans. She raises two cats, Taeyang and Bom, and works near Sungshin Women’s University.