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Interview with Stella Im Hultberg

Juxtapoz // Thursday, 02 Jul 2009


For several years now, artist Stella Im Hultberg has been steadily making her presence felt with fans, collectors and galleries alike. Hultberg has exhibited her artwork with such galleries as Lineage Gallery (now Joshua Liner Gallery), Roq La Rue, Gallery1988, Limited Addiction, and Corey Helford. Currently, Hultberg is gearing up to launch her second solo exhibition with Thinkspace Gallery in Los Angeles on July 10th. The artist was gracious enough to send me a few preview images of this upcoming show and take a few moments out of her insanely busy schedule to answer a few questions. --Andrew Michael Ford.


Andrew Michael Ford: Do you remember your first exhibition? What was it like to make the decision to show your work in a gallery?


Stella Im Hultberg: Of course, i do - it was in 2005, a group show sponsored by & titled Vice, at Project: gallery - now LeBasse Projects,where i had 2 pieces on wood. I remember being super nervous and excited to be exhibiting in a gallery. I didn't think much back then - I was just simply excited at the thought of being able to draw and paint for myself instead of other people (i was a freelance product designer at the time).

You told me before that you were born in South Korea. At what age did you come to the States and what, if any, role does your Korean heritage play in your artwork?

Actually, I didn't come to the states till college - but I grew up in Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, and went to Korean, British and American schools. As you can imagine, I have a pretty confused cultural identity that Korean heritage is something I'm still discovering and learning. I lived in Korea a little less than half of my life, on two different occasions, so the roots should be pretty strong, although I always feel like an outsider looking in when it comes to Korean culture. I have touched on some Korean subject matters briefly in the past. and maybe on a subconscious level, I'm always drawing from my experiences in Korea as a whole and from people I know there. But right now, I feel that maybe I need to study the culture and get to know it better to have it overtly influence my works.

Having watched your career for a while now I have seen a recent change in the works, specifically that you have moved more towards more colorful works made using oil on canvas. What was the impetus for this move and what effect do you see this change in medium having on your future works?


Oil painting has always been so fascinating to me - it's such an ancient medium, but is still being used to this day. Unfortunately, I've never had a chance to take painting classes, so I took it on to challenge myself. What started with curiosity timidly seeped into my gallery works, initially on tea-stained paper, often mistaken as watercolor, soon became full-blown oil on canvas paintings, allowing me to loosen up and use big motions. Oil paint is such a vibrant medium - it's like it's alive, it moves. it allows you to sculpt an otherwise 2-dimensional surface. Interestingly enough, after working on oils so much, I also craved the quick readiness of watercolor or acrylic. So i've started some more graphic oriented works on wood, and some mixed media pieces on paper recently. I think it's really helped me see things differently, and braver to take on new challenges. Hope I don't get too scatterbrained.


A lot of people might look quickly at your works and see imagery of beautiful girls but I have noticed several items which hold clues to something deeper going, such as an image of the girl resting with a bird or a solitary figure sitting alone holding a small key on a string. I think it is those elements in your works that intrigue me the most and I am wondering if you would care to elaborate on the meaning or narrative behind such imagery?


In general, I don't have messages in any of my paintings I'm trying to get across to people. Stories I witness from people, books, lyrics from a song, scenes from a movie will prompt me to make certain paintings, but even I don't know exactly why I'd paint a bird with this figure, or why I'd put flowers here. It's just an image I make up in my mind as I paint, as a whole, I think. I guess, they are symbols - what they symbolize can be different to each person. it's usually something that is hard for me to put together into a neat sentence.

I have also noticed in some of your newer works a move towards the use of patterns separate yet obviously connecting with the figurative aspect of the work. I was curious why you have begun to do this and was wondering what role these design elements play in the overall landscape of your paintings.


I actually didn't intend to show the works you might be speaking of - the mini acrylic/mixed media ones on wood. I was doing them for fun, just as experiments, but I thought I'd be brave and show something different. I think with or without patterns, I'm trying to develop layers and depth in my works. Something to connect with the figure - a little world that I can create for them. Personally, doing patterns is interesting - to do something repetitive and intricate can be meditative and soothing. But to make them work with one another and connect with the figure is challenging for me. I feel like that process in itself is interesting - kind of life itself.

Ok, moving away from talking about the works themselves. You were part of a group of female artists who became well known through a series of female group shows throughout the west coast and eventually across the country. What was that whole experience like? Do you still keep incontact with everyone now that it seems each artist has moved on to successful solo careers? How did that all come together? Was that a good time for you and do you miss those exhibitions where you were sharing the stage with others as opposed to taking on the responsibility of a solo exhibition?


I think it happened all by serendipitous coincidence that there were that many female group shows. At the risk of sounding trite, I must say it truly was amazing to be surrounded by so much talent. It's a huge learning experience and humbling one as well. Group shows seem so much more fun and less stressful for me - solo exhibits are great honors, so I don't take them for granted at all, but they are, needless to say, a lot weightier. I definitely keep in touch with many of them, and some became good friends as well. I plan on seeing some of them again in LA.


Have you ever created a piece and thought this is one of the most important pieces I will ever make? Or is the most important work always the stuff you are currently working on?


Haha...I have never made pieces and thought that. But I did have some break through moments while painting, that led to some realizations about what I'm doing, where I should be going. I am not too attached to my paintings, but what's most important to me is the process of them all. After I'm done with paintings (usually because of show deadlines) I always feel a little empty and sad inside that the process has to stop there.


You have told me you are married. Is your husband also an artist? And whether he is or not, how involved is he is your career?


Matthew is a freelance graphic designer who studied painting in college, and has a vast in-depth of knowledge in art, music, film (andbikes, oh god), and a good eye for them too. We've been both working next to each other at our home studio for the past 5 years, so he's thebest studio mate for me, to say the least. He is my third eye, seeing what I can't see, the most reliable critic. He inspires me to be better. Ah, of course, he helps me carry really heavy things. ;)


You must be pretty excited about this show opening up at Thinkspace Gallery! I have heard that after that you have solos coming up at Copro Gallery and Josh Liner Gallery in the coming year. Things seem to be going pretty well for you. Where do you see yourself in 5 or even 10 years?


I feel truly blessed to be able to do what I love doing so much. I am learning to be less stressed about it, and enjoy the experiments and challenges. I'm also learning to be less lazy as well. I hope that in 5-10 years, I'll feel much more lucid about what I'm doing, where I want to go, be able to elaborate about my works better,and have expanded my horizon to things i've always envisioned, regardless of still being able to get shows or sell works. I hope to be always learning and creating. 


More on Stella can be found at her website:
Artist blog:

Sneak Peek of Memento Mori:


Every image in one place


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