We had the good fortune of connecting with Mihee Nahm and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mihee, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I grew up in Jeonju, South Korea until the age of 16 before moving to the United States. Owing to my parents effort, I had a normal, quiet childhood. When I was in kindergarten, we moved into a neighborhood where many kids of similar ages would get together after school to play. Amongst a slew of childhood memories from that time period, I would like to recount a few that stand out.
What I enjoyed the most about playing house as a kid was cooking various un-edible foods and drinks. I remember searching for small, white gravel to grind with a brick in a circular motion until it became fine dust like ‘Misugaru’ (Korean nutty drink which wasn’t allowed in the house on account of its sugar content). I kept the dust in a glass jar only to neglect them a few days later when I created a newer, better recipe.
Another memory is collecting little twigs for older kids who started a small fire. Of course, fire was never to be started without adult’s supervision, but we trusted the older kids who pretended that they knew what they were doing. The small fire was protected from the wind by a broken umbrella we found lying around. I can’t remember why but I decided to close the umbrella at one point only to drop it into the fire from touching the heated metal handle. All the neighborhood kids were gathering around this small fire almost as if we were creating a barricade to protect this forbidden secret from our parents’ eyes. Of course, the guilt of playing with fire tugged at my heart and I told my mom in the hope that me coming forth with the truth would prevent a traditional Korean saying that, “if you play with fire, you’d wet the bed at night” from coming true.
My final memory relates to what I do now as a painter. The house I lived in was divided into three separate units. The first floor was divided into two units: one was my family’s and the other belonged to my accomplice in this memory. The second floor was a bigger unit where the landlord lived. We all shared a yard together. Our older siblings were already in elementary school and we must have been home early from kindergarten. Our not-so-close friendship blossomed temporarily due to the fact that we didn’t have any other kids to play with. Whoever started, I cannot say, but we began drawing on the wall of our shared front yard. I believe the wall was made of painted white bricks. We started drawing with something colorful (perhaps crayon). I don’t even remember what we drew but we filled the whole wall and then went back inside our homes with a sense of accomplishment from knowing that we made something pretty. Of course, shortly after that we were both holding ours hands up in the air as punishment while the adults painted over our drawings.
When I remember my various childhood memories, I can’t help to think how lucky I am that I get to make paintings in my studio: trying out different color or medium recipes, exploring different applications to push the limit of what I can do with paint, and filling the white canvas with something I consider to be beautiful.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I capture poignant landscape I encounter from my daily commute and walk through painting and drawing. My work begins from constant observation. Subtle changes in the time of the day, the weather and the mood I am in alter the characteristics of the things observed.
Three years ago, my sudden move back to Texas uprooted me once again from my home country of South Korea. The leafy and earthy Texas landscape brought about nostalgia within me. I began photographing and painting to hold onto these fleeting imageries. The degree of mimesis varies from painting to painting. The numerous images collected daily are categorized and archived to be composited and manipulated. My Daily Drawing series–the name derived from the daily collection of source images–are studies I made from these edited images with drawing media. A few get selected to be painted on a larger scale in acrylic or oil. For these larger works, once the basic information is laid out on the surface many layers of thin paint are applied to get the right value and color. The form is slowly built up through layered shapes until edges appear to define the form. Many times, the final painting deviates from the source image in form, color and mood.
Longing of an unattainable moment in the past and sadness of being away pervades my day to day life as an expatriate. Nature has a way of allowing me to drift into poignancy. This bitter sweet feelings of melancholy and nostalgia are presented through depictions of nature in this body of work.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My families in Korea and America both deserve recognition for their continual love and support. I am also grateful for the opportunity to work with the amazing colleagues and students of the Art Department at the University of Dallas.
© Mihee Nahm