Interview with Sang Woo Kim

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Sang Woo Kim is a British-Korean model and artist. Recognise his features? That’s because over 2015 Kim has fast became the face of London’s continuously booming menswear industry. Kim’s walked for daring British brands such as Vivienne Westwood and Christopher Shannon while also featuring in commercial campaigns for DKNY, where in the SS16 shots he acted as Cara Delevingne’s charming lover. However Kim is not always the subject, his creativity far extends the end of the runway as primarily – Sang Woo Kim is an artist.

There is a distinctive difference to modelling and being an artist and Kim explained how he deals with the variety, “There is massive contrast to the means of both being an artist and a model. Photographers and stylists make me into an element of their vision which I appreciate massively but it obviously conflicts with my work as an artist. I model for a means but keeping the balance is very important, I have to keep a good hold onto my art because essentially in modelling, I get told what to do.” 

However with strong direction and a limited amount of individuality, there is a space for Kim to keep creating art. “I do sometimes try to bring art work into modelling, I try to envisage what the fashion team want and be the tool to aid the photographer to get his this vision exactly what it could or should be. People think modelling is always contrived but when you have a relationship with the director it can be different.”

Everything about the way Kim acts is the model behaviour of a gentleman, he is polite, endearing, grateful and his inner confidence appears to come from a calm place. Yet how hard is it to stay grounded with the speed of the fashion industry? Kim explained, “Things are pretty busy but I can not complain. I’ve taken a year out of my course at Goldsmiths to model and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made because I do have a big sense of achievement by making a living through modelling and I still create art.”

In this issue of SID, art and fashion have come together again as Kim has designed art work for the editorials. “I tend to think that art and fashion are two separate entities but then there are moments like this when I can incorporate my art into editorial, which is great but these projects have to make sense before I agree to do them.” This isn’t the only time that Kim’s art has collaborated with fashion to create intriguing works, he worked on a photo-manipulated documentary project with Harvey Nichols and he created art for a charity auction for the African Arts Trust, which was in association with a magazine and the legendary Sothebys!

With so much activity happening in Kim’s life, his number one outlet is painting. “When I look at art for myself, I’m much more intrigued by painting for now but it’s not always been this way, I used to live in a dark room! When I attended St Martins I promised myself I wouldn’t paint so I could develop my skills in new mediums such as sculpture, but once I started at Goldsmiths, I just couldn’t stop painting again.”

Regardless of prioritising the artistic medium of painting, Kim stays away from art work that’s in any way contrived, “When I choose to paint it’s very sporadic and institutive. I believe that my art leaves an instinctual mark, it’s there for a reason and it’s made when I’ve thought about a lot of different things at once.” This way of working fits perfectly into the way that Kim believes we consume both art and fashion, “Whether you like a piece of art in any form, it’s instinctual – you don’t need to know why you like it, it’s all subjective.”

The way that Kim’s future is going to go, in art or fashion – will be left up to the instinctive nature of his own decisions, “I am purely satisfied about what I’ve done so far and I will never expect anything more. I’m going to run with it and if something else happens, it happens. I’m already thankful and grateful for what’s happened in my career so far.” But Kim does let us know that, “I’ll always be an artist.”

For more information on the artist’s work, visit http://www.sangwoo.kim/

Original interview by Jordan Joshua Lewis for SID Magazine #9 (FW15). Image credits: All art work by Sang Woo Kim, portrait by Old Kearon, shot in London.