For a lot of artists, the first brush with paint usually comes at an early age. This was not too dissimilar for Seoul-based artist Dahye Choi, who graduated from art college and “rarely thought about anything other than art.” At this time, 2009, she was exhibiting her first solo show and worked across both illustration and painting. She thought that “without a doubt” painting was the best thing she could do – but little did she know that she would come to regret it.
“I had been painting for a long time,” Dahye recalls, “but I seldom felt happy while painting.” Despite the fact that she had three solo exhibitions on the go, alongside several group exhibitions, she simply just couldn’t get into the art world. “Painting felt more and more painful to me,” she tells It’s Nice That. “Not everyone who paints is creative. I was, I just realised that something was wrong, which got me thinking a lot about my paintings and myself.”
She describes how she felt feeling conscious of “other people’s eyes” and that she was “obsessive” about having to paint for others – “is it possible to satisfy everyone?” This was a pinnacle question to her practice and to herself. She answers: “It isn’t possible! I tried to reach an impossible goal and, of course, I failed. But after a storm, I realised that my goal itself was wrong.”
Ever since this poignant marker in time, Dahye has been painting for herself, and for herself only. Consequently, her style changed alongside her new-found perspective. Over the course of two or three years, the resulting imagery became “self-healing” for the artist. “Ironically, I’ve painted a picture that satisfies myself, and many people like it, too,” she explains. “I feel like I’m doing something really creative, but this has only happened recently.”
Dahye likes to observe the “people, life, scenery, light, day, weather, youth, emotion… all of those things.” Although influenced by many factors that could take hours to digest, she prefers to finish her work as fast as possible – aided by the use of acrylic paint, which she describes as the “right material” for her. “I also don’t do detailed sketches, because I want to focus more on the concept. After looking at the photographic materials I take in advance, I then sketch the background, the position of the character, the movement and the direction of light. Then, I paint it the right way – I focus on the colours rather than the shapes.”
Her scenes are quintessentially quaint – where cobbled (and wonky) streets are lined with toyshops, and puppets hang from the windows next to its wooden shutters. A family take a photograph with the help of a selfie stick, with a sunny skyline behind them looking like somewhere in Europe on a crisp winter’s day. “Unlike before, I became more interested in reality and real events, rather than fantasy or fiction,” she says. “So, my paintings are usually based on real places and stories; my eyes are usually drawn towards old spaces, everyday things and ordinary people. I’m inspired by moments that are not special.”