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A New (Real) Talent in New York: Yesora Song

Speaking to Yesora Song, I discovered an accomplished artist who translates in her paintings feelings such solitude, hope, danger, fear, introspection, love, giving them added depth with her mastery of light.

Some of them, especially Hunting (which is dealt with further down), redirected me to religious iconography, but Song’s work is not about religion: it is about awareness.

Gaze, Courtesy of the Artist

How and when did you arrive in the USA?

When I was in middle school, I started preparing to get into an art high school. Korean art high schools consider both painting skills and grades. To be honest, my skills were pretty good but not my grades, so I failed to get in and had to go to a regular school where I had a hard time with the strict curriculum. At that time, my cousin was studying abroad and my parents saw how unhappy I was, so they suggested that I go study with her. I took the opportunity and came to New York in 2013.

Sleep Parlysis, courtesy of the Artist

How was the acclimatization? What cultural differences did you notice and which one(s) was the hardest to learn?

I had really hard time speaking English at first. I am an introverted person, so that did not help. However, I went to a high school that had a lot of students from abroad, so my teachers were very understanding and considerate. Now, I can speak English so much better compared to those days, but since Americans are so much more expressive, I still don’t feel 100% blended in sometimes. That’s who I am, though, so I just try to accept it.

Brooklyn, courtesy by the Artist

Did you find what you were expecting?

I came here to learn in a freer environment, and I was and am definitely satisfied with that choice. Art education here, at least from what I experienced, is a lot more open and gives more space to students to be creative. There are always pros and cons. For me, my Korean art education helped me to be more skillful and develop a strong foundation while my American art education helped me to be more creative and explore new concepts.

At what age did you start painting/drawing? What process do you follow?

I do not exactly remember at what age I started as I’ve been painting since I was very young, probably around 7-8. I just loved painting and drawing, and becoming an artist was always my dream. So, naturally, I applied for art school, came to the U.S. to study, and became one.

Hunting, courtesy by the Artist

Talk me about your painting Hunting.

It started with an episode. One day, I was heading back home and took the subway as usual. An elderly guy who was sitting next to me started talking to me. He asked me where I’m from. I said Korea. He questioned when I came to America, so I said a few years ago. Then, the next questions suddenly became very weird: “Where do you live?” and “Do you live alone?” I was naïve, but I knew not to answer those questions. I said I had roommates. Then he asked me if I wanted to hang out with him. I got frightened, said no, and left the train. This experience creeped me out a lot, and I decided that I had to do something about it. Frida Kahlo’s The Wounded Deer inspired the concept. The pink light on the figure means the perception of me as a woman. The arrows are the eyes and words I have to deal with as a woman. No matter what you wear and how real you are as a person, some people see you as a deer or rabbit to hunt for fun. I tried to portray the feeling of being hunted as a woman, but despite that, I refuse to run away.

Do you paint for a purpose? What animates you when painting?

I paint because I like to share my stories, and each painting is its own learning process. My works explore light a lot. When light hits and glows, the magical moments come. It creates atmosphere, time, and stories. I like to capture a sparking second of people’s lives. Also, I paint what I adore, so I often paint about very personal topics, such as: my life, nature, family, and friends. However, I also get inspiration and ideas from other sources, including: pictures, paintings, or music videos. Otherwise, I have mural projects that I’ve been working on with other artists, which motivate me because I learn a lot from the collaboration and process.

Courtesy by the Artist

How would you position yourself in the art market?

I’ve worked on custom paintings. I receive pictures and details of how the customers would like the paintings to be, and then, I make paintings based on the requests and add my personal touch. Usually, people order paintings as a gift for loved ones, so I feel honored when customers say that my painting “will be so meaningful” for their wife, husband, niece, etc.

How do you promote yourself? Do you work with any gallery?

I had some group shows in the past years in Ouchi gallery. It was located on the fifth floor of a hundred-year-old historic building in Brooklyn, New York. Originally a shoe factory, now it is an art gallery for talented young artists from around the world to showcase their art and make progress toward their dreams. I’ve participated in multiple group shows as MADE IN NY, YES, and What You Perceive in 2020.

In your opinion, which work has been your best one in recent years? And which one received the best response? Can you say why?

I personally would say that Linda is the best work I’ve done so far, but the one that received the best response is Subway. Subway won the First Place in the 6th Congressional District Art Competition, “An Artistic Discovery,” and it was displayed for one year in the Cannon Tunnel, a heavily traveled corridor of the United States Capitol. The drawing was an image of mundane life in a NY subway. I believe a lot of people felt they could relate to the piece.

Subway, courtesy by the Artist

As an independent artist, how do you manage to exhibit your works?

I was lucky that I’d been to Ouchi Gallery to see an exhibition of my cousin’s friend. I went there purely to see the exhibition, but then I had a conversation with the director of the gallery. She was interested in my works after I told her that I am also an artist. She suggested that I consider showing my works in her gallery. That’s how I started working with her.

What's next?

It would be great to work again with other artists on mural projects. I haven’t done it since the pandemic began, but it would be great to go back. Murals are quite commercial compared to my own works, but I enjoy them very much because I can communicate, discuss, and learn during the process—unlike painting alone. I would like to continue working on my own works as well, though. Currently, I am working on landscapes, and I have some ideas for portraits that incorporate nature like I did in Lotus and Hunting. In the future, I’m also planning to share my experiences as an Asian woman.

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