August 5, 2015

How many cameras do you have access to right now, without moving? We’re guessing at least two or three, maybe more. Which is mental, when you think about it. The act of creating and sharing images has become so immediate, so convenient, that we are able to do it without so much as a second thought, without even really seeing what we’re creating an image of.

So drawing with a pencil is pretty rebellious, in these superfast times. There’s something defiant about the slowness of the act of faithfully sketching out a likeness when you could create one so much quicker with the phone in your pocket. But Ki Yoong, whose work we’ve been appreciating this week, shows us why it’s still such a precious skill.

Ki creates portraits that seem haunted with narrative and emotion. Painstakingly produced and informed by a strong sense of its subjects’ personalities, his work makes you stop. It invites you to take a moment to lean in and appreciate details you wouldn’t normally notice, to feel a sense of the time that’s invested in it.

We caught up with him to find out more.

UO: What’s your story so far – how did you first get into art and then how have you become an artist?

Thinking back, when I was young, I was always drawing or painting. On the weekends, evenings, school holidays I worked at it constantly, day and night, drawing this and that. When I was at that age when you start thinking about what it is you want to do with your life I decided I might want to try and be an artist. I think it was my only visible talent.

Everyone has in his or her self the urge to express something, and people do it with what they love, I suppose. And so through school that was my focus, and the same at college. Then naturally things took a more serious tone when at university I studied Fine Art and Art History and afterwards I did a Masters in Fine Art at Central St Martins. So here I am. I have a lovely little art studio in Peckham that I share with a few friends. I try my very best to draw everyday (even if it’s a quick sketch on the tube). Sometimes I feel inspired, sometimes I ask myself if I’ll ever have a good idea. Each day I give myself a little pep talk: work hard! Believe in it, take advantage of your advantages, and satisfy yourself. Don’t do it for anyone else.

UO: What ideas are you most excited about spreading?

I’m interested in quite ordinary feelings or experiences. As simple as being on a busy train where there’s that one somebody on a carriage you wonder about the most, and you have questions…what do they think? Where are they going? Who do they miss? Can they read my mind and tell I’m thinking these things? …Is it possible to express this experience through drawing the person?

Finding a relationship with drawing, whether it be a portrait or otherwise, and something that people connect with that can’t necessarily be articulated, is what interests me. The pictures that I look at the most tend to feel like a secret about a secret: you want to know more, you have questions, so you create a story about the picture, and it grows to occupy a space far larger than whatever hangs on the wall in front of you. You leave behind the familiar places and head for a destination that’s only hinted at, imagined. It’s over the hills, beyond the wide lakes, on the other side of the horizon. Unseen.

UO: What is it about drawing that appeals to you as a medium?

Drawing is so immediate and that first mark is very exciting. Starting with a piece of paper, all that empty yet accessible space, just waiting, open to ideas, arguments, and ready to accept our thoughts. So there is a truthfulness to drawing, it is honest, mistakes are observable, unlike paint which can be layered and layered: with drawing nothing is concealed.

Also a pencil and a bit of paper is pretty economical.

UO: Do you think the craft of drawing by hand is under threat from digital mediums or can they work together?

I hope they can work together. But *puts on brave voice* I do think drawing by hand is under threat. Though, like anything, I guess it depends…if you’re an artist then I think you’re okay, you make the work you want to make and people will embrace it for what it is, but if, let’s say you want to be employed as an illustrator, then I think it would be a very difficult task to find clients if your skill set begins and ends with drawing by hand. Of course it’s a huge shame, there is such great great talent out there, but it’s more and more difficult to locate their relevance in the creative industries.

For myself, it’s essential to take a break from technology, to re-connect with myself and the world around me, and drawing enables me to do this. All of us have a relationship with drawing by hand, it’s one of the initial ways we communicate with the world around us – picking up a pencil and making our first marks, to say, ‘hello, this is me, this is what I think’ (all in a scribble).

UO: What do you look for in a muse for a portrait?

A look, a delicate look, one that might suggest a narrative, or a look that you might recognise yourself in. I want these faces and gentle expressions to glow brightly on the paper. To look at a pretty face and see the old woman she will become, or an old man with his boyhood within him and translate that into their drawing…if I can capture even a very small percentage of the essence of that person then I feel like I’ve been successful.

UO: Which artists do you look up to?

I’m pretty much in awe of any artist that has made a success out of their practice. I think it takes a huge strength of will power, dedication, and staunch passion – the necessities to keep you pushing forward through the failures and the successes, with a love for what you do that means it really is all you can do. I’m inspired by all the artists of varying disciplines that work in my studio building, never underestimating the value of being surrounded by people doing what they love. The list of artists I look up to really never ends, so I shan’t begin it in fear that I’ll never stop.

UO: What’s inspiring you outside of art at the moment?

I love to walk. Yesterday I noticed five beautiful trees, two white dogs, and a bird that was interesting (though I forget why). In some form or another those things will come back to me on paper. If each day I can hear a sweet little song, read a few lines of something good, listen to some marvellously funny thing my friend has to tell me, then sooner or later, out of these quietly beautiful things, I’ll find what it is I need to draw.

For further viewing check out Ki’s website.