Born in South Korea, Eunkang Koh started her career as an artist after receiving her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Hong-Ik University in Seoul. In the 2000s, she moved to California to pursue her master’s degree at Cal State Long Beach and accepted a teaching position at the University of Nevada, Reno shortly afterward. Koh’s artwork adorns this year’s Best of Northern Nevada issue.
Can you tell me about your art and the philosophy behind it?
I have a style that I use animals to show, kind of, humans … as animals living in society. So, it was a long process over the period of time I developed the idea. My background, kind of Buddhist, kind of Korean [mythology], it’s a mixture of all these kind of old tales and stories from my grandma—[my] upbringing in Asian culture. I started kind of thinking, you know, like animals—we are animals, and animals are animals. So, we’re like a different species of animal, and a lot of behavior we have … [it’s] like animals too. Also, I get a lot of ideas from language, kind of a linguistic perspective. My first language is Korean, and I later learned English. So, as I was learning English, a lot of expressions, sometimes they’re similar to Korean. Like, you know, we have expressions that we describe humans like animals, like, “Chicken head,” “like a pig,” “snake,” “rat” or things like that. … I’ve been really influenced by those ideas and philosophy, and I adapt those ideas to my art. So when I was asked to do illustrations for the newspaper, [RN&R editor Brad Bynum] said, “Yeah, you make all kinds of hybrid animals doing something human, and maybe they’ll be interested in that for this year’s [Best Of] edition.”
Sounds like when we talk about an “urban jungle.”
Yes. It was really fun to do research and go through the process. I’ve never done commission work, but that was really interesting. I’m really glad you guys asked me.
When Brad called you, were you familiar with Best of Northern Nevada artwork in past issues?
Yes, I know some of the artists who have done that project. … So, yes, I’m pretty familiar with that newspaper.
Did you approach the project any differently than you normally would?
A little bit. At the beginning, as I said, I really haven’t done much commercial work. … Sometimes my work is very provocative, kind of crazy. So, I didn’t want to go with that. But at the same time … with the family theme, there was all these birds hanging out with baby birds. When I heard “family,” that kind of made me think about what a family is in the contemporary world. A lot of times, when people think “family” they figure, like, mom, dad. But then, I kind of started thinking like, “What if a little kid doesn’t have a mom and dad?” Like, they only have mom, which happens a lot. Or, like, they don’t even have a dad or mom, they only know uncle and grandpa. So, my theme is not typical. I always like thinking about philosophy because of things that I do in my work, which was really interesting. So, it was commission work, but I definitely thought about, like, how to approach my art as well. And I think that part became really interesting, too, because I think there is a flat form that I was supposed to do. There’s a theme, but then, like, plugging in kind of my idea into that was a very interesting part of this process.