Jin Eui Kim was a highlight of Ceramic Art London (an event covered by CFile here) showing his wheel thrown sculpture with optical illusion imagery. You couldn’t walk past his display without a strange feeling that something was watching you, shifting in your direction as you pass. Kim paints circular optical illusions on his work using bands of gray scale for a startling effect at each point of experience: afar, close-up, and touched. Originally from South Korea, Kim graduated from Cardiff School of Art & Design, England, with an MA and PhD in Ceramics and has since shown in England and across Europe. Driven by intense research, smart imagery, and incredible craftsmanship Kim is quickly gaining momentum in the contemporary ceramics scene.
Approaching Kim’s cleverly titled OPjects at Ceramic Art London was obviously striking, as any optical illusion illustrations might be, appearing playful and fun, maybe a gimmick to sell pots. But up-close it was clear that these were refined pieces of art, from the consistency of the color gradient to the seductive matte surface to the sophisticated forms. Touching the pieces provided another layer of illusion as the assumedly flat canvas has raised and recessed ridges with each stripe, only visible at a profile angle. In Kim’s words, “Touching is the only way of revealing.”
Kim’s process is delicate, making precise objects on the potter’s wheel and applying 18 different shades of engobes that make up his gradient of white to black. These colors took him 16 months to develop during is time at Cardiff School of Art & Design where he studied the illusory effects of black to white gradient applied to three-dimensional surfaces for his PhD.
“I explore visual phenomena especially created by tonal bend,” Kim explains in a video produced by R&A Collaborations. “But depending on how I arrange the tonal bend there appears illusionary spatial phenomena and those phenomena influence the three-dimensional form. In general, lighter tones appear to advance and darker tones appear to recede.”
For instance, Kim can make a concave surface appear flat, or even convex. This creates a magical sense that each object exists within a subtle range of forms. This is where Kim’s work becomes quite remarkable. His actual physical forms are sensitive and elegant, a challenging accomplishment in itself, but his perceived optical range of forms are also refined. Each optical bend is calculated with an acute awareness of its direction and intensity. It is this impressive perceived range and flawless craftsmanship that keep his work away from the “cheesy” or “gimmicky,” categories that optical illusion art is vulnerable to.
Maintaining a “serious” look to his playful effect allows the work to focus on associations with altered and invented realities, including the digital. A shocking moment was seeing Kim pick up one of his sculptures. It resembled a floating digital object, a portal to another dimension, a hole in reality, space, and time. In fact, it looked remarkably like the recent viral video of virtual reality sculpting visualized in real space. His objects are totally foreign to this reality, yet so confidently rooted here.
A recent mural commission on Bond Street in London shows that Kim’s painting is successful independent from his 3D forms. Here, Kim painted the interior walls of a three-story building with his signature black and white illusion designs. The full design is only revealed when viewed through the windows from the street, where it looks like the inside has been consumed by a larger-than-life alternate reality. The success of the Bond Street mural and recent experimentation with color gradients foreshadows an exciting future for Jin Kim’s work.
Watch the video below created by R&A Collaborations to see some stunning shots of Kim’s process along with commentary that reveals his delightful personality and the important elements of his work and practice.
Justin Crowe is Writer-at-Large for CFile.
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