In this day and age, analogue and digital methods of creating art are often placed in contention with one another. While some creatives advocate for keeping things traditional, others propose that we capitalise on technical advancements and the wide possibilities they offer. The artist Minji Seo, however, places herself firmly in the middle of these two methods of thinking.
Working with both oil paints and her “handy” iPad, Minji has no interest in being restricted to one set of tools. In her oil paintings, Minji loves to see the traces she leaves on the canvas – “the amount of paint, the amount of oil, the condition of the brush and the movement of the arts” – and the unique edge they give each piece. She enjoys working on her iPad, however, for the opposite reason: she can alter each piece to near perfection.
We last caught up with Minji in 2020 and, since then, she explains that little has changed in her typical day to day. But while nothing may have altered in Minji’s personal life, her style has certainly developed. Before, Minji’s work was recognisable for its abstract, “smudgy” approach to faces and and bodies, whereas now she’s honed a much more realistic look. This change in style arose after Minji felt a sense of monotony in her work. “In the past, I drew things directly onto the screen, without referring to photos,” Minji details. “As I continued to work like this, I felt like I was doing the same thing over and over again.” So, Minji decided to refer to a picture of herself, or one she found from the internet. “In the process”, Minji explains, “the faces of the characters became clear. In the past I drew ‘humans’, and now the characters I draw have been embodied as women.”
This focus on faces has helped Minji enhance an area of her work that has always been important: the depiction of emotion. Always endeavouring to show the complexity of emotion, and how humans often experience a number at any one time, Minji’s recent series is a brilliant example of expressions saying more than words. After becoming interested in the narrow spaces on elevators, and the way people act within them, Minji set herself on painting such scenes, and of course, heightening the awkwardness. “People look at the buttons for nothing, watch the floors change, or look at their faces reflected in the mirror, all to avoid making eye contact,” Minji says. Using upturned eyes, pained expressions, crossed arms and hands tucked into pockets, Minji perfectly represents the triviality of an elevator journey, but also the self-consciousness that comes with being in a confined space with strangers.
As a remedy for the negative or difficult emotions Minji grapples with in her work, she often nestles dogs in her pieces too. A small Jack Russell or Shih Tzus wearing a fluffy bonnet; Minji’s dogs add a lighthearted, humorous element to her works. But, beneath their immediate visual effect, their inclusion has a much deeper meaning. They're used as symbols for “loneliness” and the emotional turbulence of humans. “I feel sympathy for two creatures of different species offering each other true love, and for the fact humans often end up reliant on puppies much smaller than they are,” she muses. “I believe that the basis of my work is compassion and affection for humans, and I feel that this work shows that attitude well.”
Minji Seo: Elevator 2 (Copyright © Minji Seo, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.