Yurim Gough is ceramic visual artist who comes from Korea, a country with a historic tradition of ceramics, where she was a fashion designer and had been designing high heeled shoes for over ten years in Seoul then in Tokyo and London. She immigrated to England in 2007, the first time she had set foot outside Asia. Learning English from scratch and being influenced by the radical change in culture, she went back to being an artist, which was always her first calling. Starting with life drawing and experimenting with other media, she found herself drawn to her cultural roots in ceramics, mixing the two. In 2013 she made bowls and sketched live models, drawing directly onto the contoured surfaces and combining the organic hand-moulded form of the bowl with the human form of the model. A couple of years later, she began to add imagery to the pieces to extend the narratives that began with the poses, seeking inspiration from what she found captured in the drawings. In Asian culture, bowls are philosophically connected with humanity; for example, in Korea they might talk about how big a bowl you have in your mind, so the bowl is holding all your knowledge and experience.
My art practice explores humans’ complex emotions, different feelings and thoughts; it is concerned expressing the subconscious mind in my artworks. Life drawing in front of the living, breathing model is very important and it helps me to understand the humanity that bridges between reality and the idealistic, by joining the model's pose to the contoured surface of the ceramic piece. The lines from the model are communicated on the rough texture of the hand-built stoneware with a ceramic pencil, never changing a line. The jagged lines soften under glaze. Subsequently, a variety of colourful images are layered on top of the life drawing. I make them translucent with the human body visible underneath. Mixing my lifelong love of life drawing with ceramics in a unique way as a self-taught artist. I use traditional methods and combine with modern methods such as using 3D-printed parts for the ceramics or creating digital art to apply via transfers. My ideas are hugely influenced by modern society, current issues, especially recent trends and electronic information received from social media.
The VainEgo Project
As a woman artist, the VainEgo project moves on from imagined stories to real stories, with myself as the subject. In 2016, during my breast cancer treatment, I drew 162 self-portraits and made 20 bowls on which I did a life drawing of myself onto the contoured form. During lockdown in 2020, I made half-sculptures based on 108 selected self-portraits. I call the piece “108 VainEgo Faces: Army of me”. A mantra is repeated for each 108 feelings. This is reached by multiplying smell, touch, taste, hearing, sight, consciousness by painful, pleasant, neutral, and by internally generated or externally occurring, and yet again by past, present, and future.
The 20 VainEgo bowls combine the time I was born, my childhood, teenage years, up until now. Unforgettable memories of my life are recorded in this ongoing project. Also, the process of self-life-drawing onto the bowls has been recorded on video. The VainEgo Exhibition is planned to be shown at the APT Gallery in London, May 2022.
Where are you from? Did you grow up in a creative environment?
I am from South Korea but 15 years ago I moved to England and now I am based in Cambridge.
My interest in art started when I was six years old, I did a painting that surprised my school teacher, and it was a view of the ocean. After that, my interest grew and my school teacher started to submit my art to competitions.
For me, who couldn’t concentrate well with my single mother due to my family environment, painting was one thing that I could focus on.
For three years from age 15 to 17, I practiced hard at school and after school in special classes in the hope of going to study art at University. Unfortunately despite passing the entrance exams, I was forced to drop out after the interview because of my family status. At that time in Korea lack of family name and parentage could deny you admission. I had a great interest in fashion however, so I went to a fashion school instead for a year and learned to think three-dimensionally. For example, in the design of bags, shoes, and other accessories.
I have never formally learned art, so I had to learn it by myself. The only thing that made it possible to learn alone was to be focused on the art and be satisfied by my own interest in it.
Who or what has compelled and/or encouraged you to create your art?
My mom's praise and support in everything I do had a great influence on my young self.
However, my agonies are the key to my creations. I have been through so many difficulties in my life and whenever I feel that I have to express myself and let pressure off, creation helps to release the tension of the agonies.
My life and artworks are not perfect and full of problems.
But it's my philosophy of life to find a way to embrace it.
What is the key topic or issue that your work addresses?
My ideas are hugely influenced by modern society, current issues, especially recent trends and electronic information received from social media.
My art practice explores humans’ complex emotions, different feelings and thoughts; my artworks concern the expression of the subconscious mind.
The Emotion Machine project is influenced by the isolation that hugely affects our life at the moment. The mental health issues such as depression, dementia, social anxiety, and low self-esteem show in the vibrant and aposematistic colour and represent the emotions in countless forms like a cell that interact and pull with one another The colourful blocks are blended and puzzled to support one strong feeling.
Life drawing in front of the living, breathing model is very important and it helps me to understand the humanity that bridges between reality and the idealistic, by joining the model's pose to the contoured surface of the ceramic piece. The lines from the model are communicated on the rough texture of the hand-built stoneware with a ceramic pencil, never changing a line. The jagged lines soften under glaze. Subsequently, a variety of colourful images are layered on top of the life drawing. I make them translucent with the human body visible underneath.
Mixing my lifelong love of life drawing with ceramics in a unique way as a self-taught artist, I use traditional methods and combine with modern methods such as using 3D-printed parts for the ceramics or creating digital art to apply via transfers.
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
When I was young, I cried so much and it became a habit so I had to cry at least once a week. Looking at myself in a mirror and staring at my own eyes … just only looking at them made me cry! And after crying, I felt better and that something was gone and released.
The ‘VainEgo’ project was a 100% cathartic process after I found out I had breast cancer. Focusing on creativity was a great tool to release emotions, weakness and pain, especially with the diagnosis and through the subsequent treatment and recovery. I also got a strong spiritual feeling from the creative process and that I was able to survive the cancer journey.
If you weren’t creating art, what would you be doing?
If I had stayed in Korea, I would probably continue to work in shoe design.
The life of a shoe designer was a fantasy world for me. I loved this job so much.
It took me five years to resume my design work due to language barriers and cultural shocks that came naturally when I moved to England. Of course, during this break, I was able to think a lot about what I really wanted to do in the future, and I also thought carefully about looking back on my childhood dream of becoming an artist. But I still had lingering feelings about doing shoe design, so I wanted to try again. Luckily, I was able to work for a London company once more as a shoe designer for a few months. However, I realized that it was no longer right for me to go through the stress from this kind of work again and engage in what I call the invisible fight with my competitors.
In the end, I strongly felt that becoming an artist, my childhood dream, was the path of my destiny. I learned genres of art and crafts in various fields. Then, I was fascinated by something thrilling that I felt while touching clay. When I was young, I was not even interested in pottery at all, but now I choose it as an important material for my artwork.
After working as a shoe designer for 10 years, I started my career as an artist at a late stage in my 30s. I thought 'design' and 'art' were completely different things, but I realized that they weren't. My designer career and experiences so far are very helpful in making my work now. In this way, Design and art coexist together.
Since I have worked as a designer, it has become a strong foundation for my art work, and that's why I think it's my own strength to be able to create and look at art with a slightly different eye.