From Acting and Animation, to Visual Development and Writing for Film, Television and Digital Media, the Academy of Art University doesn’t yet offer classes beginning with the letter Z, but with 120 offerings, they come pretty close. For those hard-liners, sure about their focus, the door is wide open and easy to find.  The annual Spring Show, comprised of student/artists and their projects, exhibits all the artistic disciplines, reinforcing that life’s passion. For those considering an art degree, but still exploring and possibly overwhelmed by the array of courses, it’s an intimate, up-close showcase of what is accessible and possible. Currently housed in the Architecture, Landscape and Interior Design building at 601 Brannan Street in San Francisco, the Spring Show does what Spring does and becomes Summer, still blooming and thriving. In the next few weeks, we’ll feature interviews with several student/artists who participated in the show and shared their experiences.

Let’s start with Biju Baek, a student of Advanced Painting.

Juxtapoz: Where did you grow up and what interested and influenced you as a youngster?
Biju Baek: I grew up in Ulsan, South Korea, a vibrant city by the ocean known for its bustling manufacturing sector. Living there exposed me to a fascinating contrast between nature and the energetic industrial complex. This duality greatly influenced not just my daily life, but my perspective.

Did you have a job or attend another school before AAU?
After graduating from high school, I made the decision to pursue my passion for the arts by moving to the United States and enrolling at AAU. Prior to that, I held a part-time job at Subway for about a yer during my sophomore year in high school. While it might seem unrelated, working at the sandwich shop allowed me to interact with a diverse range of individuals, ultimately broadening my perspective and motivating me to explore the world beyond Korea.

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When did you know you wanted to be an artist and when did you choose the kind of art you now make?
I discovered my passion for art at a young age, around six years old, when I found joy in drawing and painting. I would spend hours immersed in copying the illustrations from my favorite cartoons and comic books. It was during these formative years that I realized art was my calling. As for choosing the genre of art I now pursue, fine art resonated with me deeply. It is a realm where various art forms are born and mutually inspire each other. I am confident that immersing myself in the essence of fine art will provide me with a strong foundation from which to boldly explore and expand my artistic horizons. Embracing the diverse and inspiring world of fine art empowers me to forge my own unique artistic identity and venture into uncharrted territories with conviction.

Did you pivot from another type of art?
Yes, I did undergo a significant artistic pivot. In the past, I was drawn to painting realistic oil artworks. However, during my two-year stay in Korea between 2020 and 2022, a period marked by quarantines, I had the opportunity to explore new avenues in my life. It was during this time that I embarked on a transformative journey. I formed an art collective called DDC with four other talented artists, rented a studio space  and took the lead in organizing exhibition opportunities while pursuing my own projects. As we navigated this independent artistic path, we undertook tasks such as applying to galleries and negotiating from scratch with gallery owners. These experiences not only provided me with valuable insights, but also allowed us to showcase our work through four successful exhibitions. Also these experiences greatly influenced both my artistic style and my personal life, ultimately leading me to embrace contemporary and abstract art as my chosen style.

Do you have a favorite artist or influence?
When it comes to finding inspiration, I like to think outside the box. One of my favorite sources is cosmic imagery. There’s something awe-inspiring about the vastness of the universe that sparks my creativity, I also find it in everyday life by letting my imagination run wild.  I enjoy making connections between unrelated things, seeing ordinary objects in fascinating shapes and forms. These imaginative explorations occur spontaneously and reside in the depths of my mind when I work on my paintings. Although I may not always consciously notice it, I draw creative energy from the myriad experiences and observations in my daily life, transforming them into a wellspring of inspiration.

Why did you choose the Academy of Art?
The choice to attend the Academy of Art was driven by a long-standing dream of living in California. As I approached the end of my high school years, the idea of studying art in San Francisco seemed like a fortunate opportunity waiting to be seized. My time at AAU allowed me to immerse myself in a larger world of artistic exploration and tap into the invaluable support of a vibrant creative community. Building friendships with fellow artists from all corners of the globe and receiving guidance from exceptional faculty members who were surrounded by creativity became the most significant benefits of my AAU experience. 

What was your favorite class?
Without a doubt, my favorite class at AAU was Urban Landscape Painting taught by the incredible instructor, Greg Gandy. This class stands out as one of my most cherished experiences during my time at the university.  What made it so special were the field trips we took throughout the semester. We ventured into the city, engaging in lively discussions about the various urban views, contemplating composition and creating sketches based on the actual scenes. These field trips served as the foundation for   our initial paintings. Professor Greg provided valuable feedback and genuine encouragement to push the boundaries of our artistic thinking. It was truly transformative and a memorable class that enriched my artistic journey.

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What was your favorite experience about the Spring Show?
One of my most honorable experiences related to the Spring Show was during the year 2019 when I sold one of my paintings, Crosswalk 1. This moment held profound significance as a student artist, as it served as a foundational encouragement and brought me one step closer to realizing my aspirations of becoming a professional artist. It provided a tangible glimpse into the real art market beyond the confines of the studio, allowing me to experience the genuine dynamics and environment of the art industry. The feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment remains carved in my memory as a truly remarkable milestone in my artistic journey.

What are your goals pertaining to art, and how do you see it as part of your life?
Art is not just a passion but an integral part of my life, accompanying me since I was six years old. Throughout my artistic journey, I have experienced both triumphs and challenges, but it is precisely these experiences that have solidified my unwavering connection to art. Above all, I create art for myself. When I immerse myself in the process of painting, all other concerns fade away, and I am captivated by the narratives and vibrant imagery that comes to life with boundless energy. Art serves as my internal sanctuary where I can explore profound questions, develop my personal philosophy, introspectively reflect upon myself and find solace in discovering meaningful answers. Throughout my life, I want to put art as a forever companion and use it as a medium to connect with diverse individuals, explore the boundaries of creativity and continually challenge myself.