Saelee Oh is an LA-based artist who creates new worlds with her drawings, paintings and cut paper and although her work is delicate with themes of nature and animal symbolism, her message of female empowerment definitely shines through.
The 2003 Art Center College of Design graduate, who has given presentations at prestigious universities like Harvard, has shown her work in galleries and museums across the world. Her most recent solo exhibition, titled Infinite Roots, showed at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery and introduced us to new works on paper depicting a peaceful and organic world, imaginative and full of life, like the artist herself.
Saelee and Infinite Path from Infinite Roots at the Jonathan LeVine Gallery.
Saelee on Infinite Roots:
“The roots of a plant are what secure it to an interconnected underground where all life is nourished, as the buds and leaves bloom above. The show title, Infinite Roots, alludes to the deep reaches of our intrinsic inner desires. The tone of the work in this series is bittersweet with hints of nostalgia. The pieces appear delicate and frail but the stories they tell are about timeless strength.”
Saelee Oh's Infinite Roots and (above) a detailed look at one of her hand-cut pieces.
M.I.S.S.: What woman, besides your mom or grandmother, do you find inspirational?
Wow. There are too many, but I will just mention my best pal, Lana Kim
because she is sitting right next to me and she is a beautiful person inside
and out. All girls need good girl friends and Lana couldn’t be any better.
She’s there for the good times and the bad times and her genuinely pure
heart, enthusiasm for life and sense of humor is always inspirational.
M.I.S.S.: How did you get your start painting? Were you always artistic?
I’ve always liked drawing and making things with my hands. We had a family
friend and art teacher named Mrs. Simmons who taught us a lot of things in
her garage studio and encouraged us to be creative, to do whatever we wanted
to do and to find our individuality.
M.I.S.S.: What’s a favorite piece of art that you’ve created?
I can’t say that I really have one favorite… I like to look forward and
think more about what I want to try next and what I haven’t done yet rather
than dwell on the past.
Submersion from Infinite Roots and the nature-loving artist on a horse in Hawaii...
M.I.S.S.: Your subject matter often involves nature and animals. What is it about nature and animals that intrigues you?
They’re magical and powerful. Nature is the ultimate force. Moby Dick still
lives and is immortal forever. Weather can never be tamed and we bow our
heads down to her like a passing Queen. The language of animals is based on
M.I.S.S.: Your work has a feminine aesthetic. Is that a conscious choice? Do you consider yourself a feminist artist?
I think it’s natural because it’s a big part of my self identity. I grew up
with 3 sisters and I like the company of females. I also don’t go out of my
way to try and conceal my femininity or to make it more androgynous in order
to appeal to a different audience. (I’ve heard of some other artists trying
to do this.) That effort seems insincere to me. If feminism means trying to
be the best possible woman that you can be and to love and support other
women while doing so, then yes. I want to be empowered and to encourage
others to be too. I want to be allowed to do anything that a man is allowed
to do but do it in my own way.
M.I.S.S.: You’ve lent your art to different kinds of products from wall decals, t-shirt graphics and iPhone cases. How does it feel to see your work on different canvases? Is designing artwork for product a different process for you than painting?
The work that I do for products is split between being designed with the product in mind and having created the artwork without the product in mind and then later it’s licensed and reformatted onto a different output. I enjoy doing these types of projects because in the end in creates a different place in the world for art outside of the gallery setting.
Saelee Oh and Upper Playground teamed up to bring you her art on tees for a girl or a boy!
M.I.S.S.: Who do you want to work with? Are there other kinds of products that you would like to see your work a part of?
I would love to work with other creatives who are talented and passionate about what they do in other industries such as fashion, film, music, interior design, writing, architecture, baking, landscaping (I can go on and on…) I’m a Curious George so I would love to learn as I watch and I think interesting work can come from unexpected match ups. It’s easy to get absorbed into the world that your work is normally expected in, but the real surprises and new ways of solving problems or being creative come from meeting people who think differently.
Built By Wendy, Todd Oldham, Kate Spade, Marc Jacobs, Amy Sedaris, David Sedaris, Aimee Bender, Wong Kar Wai, Design Within Reach, Target, Wes Anderson, Thai fruit carvers, PJ Harvey, Neko Case…topiary garden landscapers call me!
M.I.S.S.: What part of painting is the most challenging and do you dislike the most?
There’s always that moment in the middle between getting inspired by what’s in your head and heart and trying to finish a piece where I just question everything. I become very existential and self loathing. The slower the paint takes to dry and the later it is at night, the more mentally exhausting it is… That always passes though and waking up after resting your eyes is a miracle. It works every time. Also, I hate cleaning my brushes and getting fresh water to clean them. I don’t know why.
Saelee's illustration for Giant Robot Issue 55
M.I.S.S.: Any advice for ladies who are just starting out in a career path as an
Putting your work out there for criticism can be intimidating, but have confidence in yourself to keep moving forward. Art and beauty are subjective. Don’t worry about trends. Don’t worry about success. Don’t google your own name. Always try to push the limits of what you think you can make. Dream big. Get a good chair with a high back that supports your neck, stretch often and have good posture. Look for inspiration outside of the art world. Don’t be late and flakey. Editing out something is just as crucial as adding something. Save your image files as .tifs not .jpgs. Have an electric tea kettle by you to have hot water in the wintertime because sitting still for long hours will make your fingers and toes numb even if it’s indoors in southern California. Think about the big picture, clear your mind, in order to be receptive to ideas and be humble and grateful.
WOW! Such great advice! Thanks Saelee!
The artist has a list of upcoming shows up on her site but M.I.S.S. highly recommends you not miss the Ed Emberley show curated by Caleb Neelon at Scion LAon July 17th 2010. Artists Seonna Hong, Matt Leines, Raul Gonzalez, Christpher Kline, Saelee Oh and the great Ed Emberley, himself, will make giant murals inspired by Ed’s books on how to draw to be donated to children’s hospitals. More info to come!