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Regulars / Ones to Watch 2019

Jee-ook Choi turns Uniqlo’s AIRism range into a series of ethereal illustrations

Illustrations by

Jee-ook Choi

Jee-ook Choi turns Uniqlo’s AIRism range into a series of ethereal illustrations

This article is part of our ongoing Ones to Watch series, supported by Uniqlo

There is something utterly mesmerising about the illustrations of Jee-ook Choi, the Seoul-based creative we picked as one of our Ones to Watch earlier this year. Partly this is down to the way that the surreal and the everyday often sit side by side in her drawings, forcing the viewer to study the images and what they’re really showing. Partly, though, it comes down to the sense of stillness she manages to convey. Many of Jee-ook’s illustrations appear to capture scenes that are frozen in time.

In one piece we wrote about last year, the foreground is dominated by a huge mobile, holding the planets suspended in space. The illustration also depicts the figure of a woman in the background, looking pensively out of a vast window on to the night sky. These are the hallmarks of much of Jee-ook’s portfolio to date – thoughtful, silent figures and still scenes, with any movement reduced to the barely perceptible swing of a mobile.

“My pictures tend to have a static feeling like time has stopped,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I like the feeling that you’re sitting idly for a long time, and if there are things moving around, I want the objects to just float in space.”

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It should be said that movement isn’t completely lacking from her work, though. Last year we also wrote about her series Sprinting Balls, which featured her typical serene backdrops, but here they were broken up by bouncing balls that injected a real dynamism into the otherwise still scenes. “I got the idea from a technique used in cartoons to represent a sense of speed, while viewers imagine the escape of the ball,” she told us back then.

So Jee-ook is no stranger to movement. Nonetheless the brief we set her for this project – to interpret the lightness, airiness and coolness of Uniqlo’s AIRism range – was one that felt suitably new and exciting to her. The AIRism range is all about keeping you cool and dry in hot temperatures, with light fabrics that wick away sweat while maintaining comfort. The interpretation Jee-ook eventually landed on relied on each picture showing items of clothing and vast sheets of fabric, all so light that they are being carried away on an unseen breeze. Movement was essential. As always, Jee-ook started by taking lots of notes and looking at reference imagery. “My creation process is very simple,” she says.

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“I imagined that the fabric of AIRism was not falling but flying.”

“Once I’ve organised my thoughts with a few simple notes,” Jee-ook continues, “I can immediately draw them in my head and if the images are interesting to me, I will look for photographs that can help me recreate my imagination. This time I looked at a lot of fashion pictures to express the texture of cloth.”

Something else that influenced her approach to the project early on was a very specific scene from a favourite film. “I felt the need to set a starting point to release the workflow,” she explains. “Then, suddenly, a scene from Laurence Anyways, a movie by Xavier Dolan , came to my mind. The scene shows clothes falling from the sky; it was really beautiful and surreal. I imagined that the fabric of AIRism was not falling but flying.”

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For this project, Jee-ook has created five new illustrations in her inimitable style. The settings are, as in lots of her work, relatively mundane – we have a dining table, a laundry room and a view through a bedroom window. This felt important to Jee-ook, because it captures something essential about Uniqlo’s AIRism range. “It is an example of a piece of invisible science that enhances people’s quality of life,” says Jee-ook. “So I decided that I should make pictures of everyday life as it is changed by AIRism.”

The results are truly stunning, bringing together Jee-ook’s clean linework, her characteristically peaceful yet often humdrum settings, a handful of her pensive figures, and a dose of that dynamic sense of movement she conveys so brilliantly. “I wanted to create a world of unique fabrics that are light and free and not affected by the surrounding environment,” she says. “I tried to express the smooth and fluid movement of cloth. I imagined watching the scene blowing in front of my eyes.”

When we spoke to Jee-ook earlier this year, she told us at length about the importance of childhood memories in her work. This project was no different. When she was reading about AIRism before getting started, a few words brought back a poignant childhood memory for her: “I was ill in bed in the heat of summer and my mother changed the bedsheets, flinging a thin summer blanket over me. The softness and the sense of security and comfort I felt as the sheet slowly sank over my body was wonderful. I thought it would be nice if I could in this project express that pleasant feeling of being wrapped in a thin, cool cloth."

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“It would be beautiful to imagine actually seeing the scene where the curtains flap like a flag.”

The atmosphere of this memory is clear particularly in the illustration that depicts a woman asleep in bed, as the textiles around her billow out of the window in silent gusts. But really this atmosphere – of comfort and security and stillness – pervades all five of Jee-ook’s drawings.

Asked to pick her own favourite, Jee-ook opts for one named Flags, which shows curtains and flags seemingly lifting off from the exterior of a building. “It’s the coolest and most beautiful of the five illustrations,” says the artist. “It would be beautiful to imagine actually seeing the scene where the curtains flap like a flag.” (The eagle-eyed among you will also spot that there is a mobile in this work too, a bit of an Easter egg for those who know her work well.)

The sense of movement throughout the works is palpable here. And, as if to highlight how much this has become a core part of her practice now, Jee-ook tells us that her next big project could well be an animation. “I’ve always wanted to do animation work, and I’m already looking forward to what I will create,” she says. “This is an unfamiliar area, so I will be able to get help from an expert, but after that I’m going to learn more about the tools I need to study animation more seriously.” Judging by these dynamic illustrations, her animations will be mesmerising, too.

Supported by Uniqlo

As part of our Ones to Watch 2019 campaign, It’s Nice That is working with Uniqlo to explore a variety of its products through a series of original creative commissions. This piece and the accompanying illustrations by Jee-ook are the second instalment in the series, which will continue throughout the year. For the first piece, we asked Micaiah Carter to interpret Uniqlo’s linen range from a new perspective; and for this one, we asked Jee-ook Choi to take Uniqlo’s AIRism range as the inspiration for a series of illustrations.

AIRism is innovative and functional innerwear that keeps you dry and comfortable all day long, underneath your outfit. It’s highly breathable and quick-drying, with a cool, light feel.