Recurring shapes, with variations: the art of Yong Sin

“Square No. 488,” 2012, by Yong Sin; acrylic on paper over panel, 36 x 48 inches

Quiet noise

Artist Yong Sin and the nuances of imperfection

by Bondo Wyszpolski

Shortly after immigrating with her family to the United States from Korea, Yong Sin signed up for several courses in philosophy at a community college and flunked all of them.

Even though she’d been reading Sartre, Cocteau, Dostoevsky, Beckett and others, Sin hadn’t yet learned English. So she veered back towards art, which she’d always done and has done ever since. Sin currently has a studio on Sixth Street in San Pedro and an exhibition of her work called “Sotto Voce: Lowering the Volume” is at Gallery 478. With Sin’s input, of course, the art was selected by artist and educator Ron Linden.

In Linden’s eyes, Sin is the real deal. “Yong’s craftsmanship is obvious and undeniable,” he says, “and it’s her ability to subvert the chosen grid organization by various means that I find very refreshing… And smart. And humorous. She seems to celebrate the accident, the ‘mistake,’ in the form of paint bleeds, erasures, and mis-alignments with a tongue-in-cheek sincerity.

“A few years ago, in 2018 or ‘19, she produced horizontal stripe paintings that from five feet away looked standard and conventional, but closer examination revealed the stripes were constructed of soiled band-aids. I was amazed at that move coming from her.”

With Yong Sin we have a local artist truly devoted to her work. How so? You’ll see.

Yong Sin with “Length to Fit,” 2021; acrylic on paper over panel, 48 x 48 inches. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

Bondo Wyszpolski: You drew as a child. What did you draw? I assume that what you created was quite different from what you do today?

Yong Sin: “I drew anything and everything. With limited supplies and resources, I drew whatever I saw in real and imaginary life. Often I did collage. I enjoyed cutting out my drawings and rearranging compositions. Come to think of it, I’m still doing what I did when I was a kid!”

BW: If you’d stayed in Korea, do you think your life and profession would be much different? Were you ever pressured in some way to find a more traditional career?

YS: “I grew up free range. We did whatever we wanted to do. My parents were exceptionally open-minded. So, presuming I’d stayed in Korea, I don’t think I would have pursued or been pressured to pursue any 9 to 5 career that I had absolutely no interest in.”

“Grid Study No. 1811” (I Swear I Used a Ruler No. 18), 2019, by Yong Sing; ink and gesso on paper, 25.5 x 22 inches

BW: You’ve now been in the States for a long time. How has your work evolved or changed since you received your BFA from Otis College of Design in 1995?

YS: “I’m still exploring art, maybe a little beyond the visceral/literal sense, and I think a lot. I’m making art now with a more defined/apparent identity. However, I’m not sure if it’s a good thing.”

BW: Are there specific artists who’ve inspired you and the style in which you work?

YS: “My admiration of these artists’ works is not necessarily a direct influence on my work and style, but they have greatly expanded (don’t know in which direction) my perception and reasoning. I admire various art forms. I always get mind-blown by Robert Irwin’s and Carl Andre’s site-specific installations. Also Jason Rhoades’ obnoxious sculptural installation, Jockum Nordström’s sensuous drawings, Toba Khedoori’s very focused and inviting drawings, Fernanda Gomes’ and Tara Donovan’s minimal use of materials in their installations, Hannah Höch and Hannelore Baron’s small yet very powerful collages; and I undeniably love Genieve Figgis’ auto palettes and Cy Twombly’s charmingly positioned scribbles.”

“Square No. 95,” 2008, by Yong Sin; graphite on tracing paper over panel, 16 x 18 inches

BW: You’ve often said, “I create nuances to challenge the ideas of identity, and I create just enough expressive variation to seemingly recurring shapes.” Would you care to elaborate a little on this for the general reader?

YS: “Basically, it’s about art, logic, and perception.

“I’ve been interested in the process of exploring the ‘idea’ of shapes as opposed to their measured reality. I set the goal to make something that is defined to be perfect, knowing that I’ll fail without measuring tools. Upon closer inspection, the viewers will find my hand-drawn subtle variations of lines, colors, textures, layers of mediums, and layers of failures. The paintings may look singular but they consist of thousands of multiples of the same or slightly varied forms and colors. Sometimes the paintings may look overloaded with many elements, but these are hand-drawn, repeated single elements collaged onto the panel.

“So, ultimately, the nuances, the variations, the seemingly recurring shapes, and the repeated failures are the true core of my work. And ironically, it’s not about something perfect.”

Yong Sin at Gallery 478 in San Pedro. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

BW: Because of the “near-repetition” in much of your work, is creating for you a kind of meditative process? Do you work quietly? With music? At certain times of the day or night?

YS: “I work day and night. A large portion of the time when I’m off is spent walking and exploring different hiking trails with my dogs. And I listen to the news while I work. In the past, the Thom Hartmann show in particular. I’m a news junkie.

“Since I do labor-intensive work, the viewers see my work as painstaking or meditative. I like what I do, and I dedicate most of my time to doing what I like to do the most; and I am obsessive-compulsive. The labor in my case is fun, regardless of being painstaking or meditative.”

BW: Are you really obsessive-compulsive? You’ve also said that you’ve been a workaholic for well over 25 years. In that case, what do you do to re-fuel, re-energize?

YS: “Yes, I am. Since I love what I do, I don’t need to re-fuel to go on.”

BW: How do you typically begin a new piece? Do you plan it out beforehand in sketches, etc, or do you let the work discover itself as you progress with it?

“Circle No. 1876” (scraped with TLC), detail, 2020, by Yong Sin; acrylic on tape over panel, 30 x 30 inches

YS: “I tend to always work in the opposite direction from the previous work. And I don’t do sketches beforehand but I do think about a couple of colors and a subject and the scale in which I want to experiment. If I make something small then the new piece will be something large. The scale matters.

“I don’t do sketches for the work I’m about to get involved with. Maybe I should’ve done some sketches, then I could’ve been a better artist! If I do sketches, then the sketches are the final pieces of the drawings. The drawings in the current show at Gallery 478 are pretty much a bold use of the medium and the medium’s authenticity. I had erasers, different types of tapes, paint, markers, an X-acto knife, graphite, oil sticks, and thread to do the quirky, casual, and fragile, with concept-driven sketches/drawings.”

BW: What do you hope the viewer will get from seeing and experiencing your work?

YS: “A shifting/perception, neighbors, neighboring colors and forms/forming, co-existence of being. It’s not that hard to find these elements but anything else is welcome to be looked at. I want the viewers to see what’s in the work and to enjoy exploring what they find rather than being guided by an artist to ‘read’ the work.”

“Reverse X” (detail), 2015, by Yong Sin. Thread to vellum, 14″ x 11″

BW: You had a deep interest in literature, theater, and philosophy. You were reading Sartre, Camus, Kafka, Beckett, all of whom are heavy hitters! Who are you reading today, and how does that bear on or influence the art that you’ve been making?

YS: “Lately I went back to reading Beckett and Peter Handke and many comic books. I can’t say they’ve had a direct influence on my art making, but I can say though that I’ve experienced a good amount of critical thinking through these authors. And I do think that my thinking process has been more inclusive of humanism, with a broader spectrum of understanding or reasoning, and that’s including non/sense, the void, and Dada.”

BW: Do you still occupy yourself with theater and literature (and music) when you have the time?

YS: “I go to the opera, performance, and the circus once in a while, but I’m often discouraged by the ticket price.”

BW: You and Ron Linden organized the show on view at Gallery 478. Which one of you came up with the title, “Sotto Voce: Lowering the Volume”? Did both of you select the work and where it was to be placed?

YS: “Ron curated the show and he came up with the title. I just brought in a whole bunch of drawings and paintings. He is a great listener and fully supportive of what an artist wants in the show and what to install in the space. Initially, he suggested having some drawings and I was so excited because this is the first time I’m showing some of my ‘raw’ drawings.

“When he told me about the title of the show, I didn’t know the word. Once Ron explained to me what it means and I read his press release, I said, ‘Right on!’ The title and the notes on the press release are poetically well fit to my work, especially for this show.”

“Obstruction” (2015), by Yong Sin. Marker, invisible tape on paper. 15.25 inches by 22 inches

BW: And what would you like to achieve, going forward, that you haven’t already?

YS: “I’ll keep producing work. My visual language is still ‘in progress.’ Perhaps this is why I hardly ever come out of my studio. I just don’t want to settle as an artist with one style. So, something to do with dioramas and color; something about playing… I’ve been boiling this idea for a few months already. That’ll occupy my life in the very near future.”

Sotto Voce: Lowering the Volume, recent work by Yong Sin, is being presented by TransVagrant and Gallery 478 through June 27 at Gallery 478, located at 478 W. Seventh St, San Pedro. Hours, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by appointment. For additional information, call (310) 732-2150 or (310) 600-4873. PEN


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