Na KimNovember 3–December 16, 2023
White Columns is proud to present the first solo exhibition by the New York-based artist Na Kim (b. 1986, Seoul, South Korea.) Kim’s exhibition comprises a group of ten recent paintings from her ongoing series of imagined portraits.
What follows is a Q&A between Kim and White Columns’ director Matthew Higgs.
White Columns: Your recent paintings take the form of portraits of imagined subjects. Can you say something about the origins of this series?
Na Kim: In the beginning, there was one subject—one imagined face. The series is my attempt to render that face over and over again. Which is to say that there was this platonic ideal that I was working towards, almost obsessively. Over time, I found that every new portrait I created looked the same but different, sometimes so different it could be understood as the face of someone else entirely. And yet the resemblance remained. The portraits are derivative, as opposed to carbon copies, as if each painting gives birth to the next – so there is a sort of genealogy to them.
White Columns: A number of early paintings in the series appeared to be self-portraits. Can you say something about how you negotiate the idea of ‘self-portraiture’ or indeed ‘identity’ in the work?
Na Kim: I think portraiture is endlessly fascinating. How we perceive ourselves and others—we rely so heavily on slippery memory to know what someone looks like. How we see is so complex, but portraiture adds another layer of intrigue for me. Because these women are not real, accuracy is not my goal. The question is more how to make these women believable—and belief is another slippery thing. It poses questions about epistemic violence, who we deem to be unreliable narrators and who determines what’s real and what’s not. I can understand why some people might mistake them as self-portraits. But I don’t like to paint my own face—there’s so much wrong with it!
White Columns: Do you think of your subjects as ‘characters’?
Na Kim: I don’t perceive them as real women, but they’re very present. They are very confrontational. However I perceive them they are always perceiving me back. They exist. They’re not ‘real’ women, but they exist. I forced them to exist. And I’m not sure if they’re happy or sad about that.
White Columns: You have set yourself a series of specific formal ‘limits’ within the work: i.e. the creation of a portrait image set against an essentially monochromatic ground. Can you say something about your approach and how, through the painting process, you work with – or around – these self-imposed ‘restrictions’.
Na Kim: I don’t like to over-complicate things, and I like that they’re non-narrative. In the most literal sense, these are figurative paintings, but spiritually they are abstract. Colors can be so emotive. My focus is the subject. There are already a thousand tiny decisions that go into painting a face. It never feels boring to me. Reproduction, replication—these are inherently processes with strict formal limitations, and I find this meditative, like a mantra.
Na Kim (b. 1986 Seoul, South Korea) lives and works in New York City. She completed her BFA in 2009 at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore. She currently works as art director of The Paris Review and associate creative director at the publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Her designs have been named among The New York Times’ best book covers of the year for the past seven consecutive years. Her illustrations have appeared in the New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Atlantic among other places.
For further information about this exhibition contact: email@example.com
Gallery hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am to 6pm.