A conversation between Calvin Kim and The Canvas
Calvin, let’s start off with learning how you entered the art world.
I actually just had a conversation with a friend about my first moment of understanding what art was. It happened in my childhood home in North Hollywood, which still remains magical in my memory. There was this wall where the fireplace was – it was embedded with large fragments of stones. When I was little, there was a time of day, a prolonged moment where on a tiny spot on the stone wall, a rainbow would appear. I kept seeing this iridescent glow day after day. I was convinced that this specific rock was somehow special. I wanted to keep that moment, so I remember getting a pencil and circling the place where this colored patch would emerge everyday. And for me, that kind of marking of something…of trying to remember the moment of an experience I had not made but discovered in wonder, was important. Unknowingly, I was really pointing to something that was far but close, material but immaterial, and past and future. I think this is what art does. I’m creating it, but it's more than me. It’s something that holds something else.
Speaking now to your current or recent work, there is an interesting tension in the subject matter being rather serious, yet there is a whimsical visual language. Do you find the visual language as a way of breaking through the subject matter, or even introducing a kind of play within the work itself?
Definitely. I'm always interested in this kind of tension of heavy-lightness and using softness as an entrypoint. Poetry as affect does this so well. I’m really trying to address life. The cycles of love, loss, and rebirth are everywhere, and I often look to the quotidian as a starting point to playfully delve into these conditions of life. I want to engage viewers to show that there is wonder, if we look slowly and with care. Even the idea of play can be a reparative stance of curiosity, openness, and proliferating hope.
So art is a way of archiving a moment, whether through sourced materiality, like how artists are limited to readily available materials, or the subject matter documenting a moment in time. With your work referring to memories and the future, can you speak to your materiality and/or subject matter in the context of time being archived?
Where the material is preserved, yes, but I wasn’t thinking so much about archiving a moment but rather, renewing it. Re-imagining time, redeeming it, and repurposing it to be more than what it was and what I remember it to be. I find this transformation to be powerful and emotional. During the COVID pandemic, I sourced materials from my family’s house; I had this natural inclination to go back to my childhood. My dad’s old undershirt, which had become a rag to wash cars, became my oil rag in the studio and eventually the fabric I would use to paint on. The bleeding of colors from these different periods of time became a sort of garden, or a stained petri dish. The material through its decay actually holds an accumulation of various histories intimately and wondrously.
What's the current materiality or medium that you're exploring right now?
See here, [Figure 1] is basically an extension of the yogurt cups where I mixed my paint, and I've been excavating the leftover paint that’s scabbed over. A professor recently suggested a reading by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory Of Fiction, and in the reading, she proposes that the first cultural tool made by humans was a bag to carry food rather than a weapon. She relates this idea of gathering with the function of storytelling that holds words – narratives and histories in constellations. I thought that this was really interesting. Nothing is too small or insignificant. We should save and share moments, even if they are unheroic and as small as a mustard seed because they have a relationship to us – to the world. I’ve been thinking about these objects in a similar way. The accumulation of paint that I'm putting forth in my studio holds memory and meaning. It inherently remembers the form of the cup it was mixed in as well as the palette of colors I used. And that vessel of dried paint then holds objects and more paint. The paint literally becomes a vessel. My studio site becomes an archaeological site: residues and debris of some past action become discoveries of future objects as offerings. I’m interested in this cycle of the familiar becoming terra incognita becoming peculiar.
Is there a brand, organization or institution you would collaborate with?
I always think of my brother as an artist: I trust his eye, and am inspired by his thoughts. I remember when I was installing for a show in 2014, he came to help me move things around in the space —he taped a crumpled piece of cellophane I was working with onto the wall—it immediately brought me back to when we used to play as children.