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Interview with Kate Bae

Born in Busan, Korea, Kate Bae holds an MFA in painting from Rhode Island School of Design and a BFA in painting from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is an artist and independent curator in New York City.

Many thanks to Kate for taking the time to chat with us and being our first artist interview!

Pretty Girls Making Cool Shit: Welcome! Would you like to introduce yourself?

Kate Bae: Yes, hello! My name is Kate Bae, yep I was told that’s a good name because it is so short. I officially changed it from my Korean name that I was born with, Kyoungwon Bae. No one could pronounce it, and when they said it, it was always wrong. I feel like name is very important; you sort of get to live up to your name. The meaning of my Korean name is ‘one who is aware.’ Kyoung means awareness, and Confucianism basically starts and ends with Kyoung. I used to dislike the sound of the name because it sounds like a boy but I am appreciating its root and the meaning as I got older, even though I am yet to be aware of anything. I am a Leo Lamb, ENFP and 5/1 Projector type (in Human Design) so I have a lot to work on as far as self-improvement goes.

I was born and raised in Busan, Korea and came to US when I was fifteen. I am now based in New York City, making paintings and drawings that resembles sculpture.

PGMCS: Have you always been creative/artistic?

KB: I have to say yes…I was a very quiet repressed kid. I have been questioning the purpose of life since I was 6 years old. Music and drawing have been always my outlet. My dad collected musical instruments and built speakers in his music room, and I used to make short compositions in piano and violin. I’d draw people’s expressions; studying cold emotions, how eyes don’t smile when mouth is, how hair flows differently in thickness, and spend all night making a comic book about some tragic stories. Actually, I was inspired by Annabel Lee, Edgar Allen Poe’s poem; and at that time, I didn’t speak English so I just made up story of my own based on the poem I didn’t understand.

PGMCS: How did you begin creating your three-dimensional work with paint? What lead you to casting paint?

KB: It was an accident. When I graduated RISD for MFA in 2010, I moved to New York City but I couldn’t figure out how to make a living and making art at the same time. So after a year of struggling and really missed making art, I went to the residency called The Post Contemporary in Troy for three months. But a year of not painting made me feel lost, so I just played with paint a lot. I couldn’t really afford to buy paint, so when I spilled a whole can of paint I’ve really lost it. Or so I thought. When I peeled the paint, it was such a strange sensation. I’ve peeled a lot of paint off from palette before, but not a solid color in such flat surface. I found it very interesting, also it was so pleasurable to peel off the paint. I immediately started to experiment and folded the peeled paint. For some reason they all came out as floral forms – I just kept pushing. I didn’t make any art for another four years, and when I finally started again in 2015, I realized I have a lot more options if I were to let this work alive. By 2017, I started to look for specific shapes and materials. So it was a long trial and error for me.

PGMCS: Do you ever use remnants of other work or fresh paint for your three-dimensional pieces?

KB: I do. When I create work, it works like a collaged experience. The more materials I have, the happier for me to play. I try to save the previous scraps. But usually I end up making fresh paints because acrylic gets brittle as temperature changes. It is definitely easier to deal with fresh ones.

PGMCS: Do you create custom molds for making your cast pieces, or are they fabricated or somehow left to chance?

KB: I do both. But I love the chance – when I go to thrift stores or some random places in the street, I recognize the surface I can cast from. Then it becomes more interesting. 

PGMCS; You have lived in significantly different cities, Busan in Korea to Chicago and New York City; how much, if at all, do your cultural surroundings influence your work?

KB: I have to say they have influenced me tremendously. Space and energy affect me so much. I am very sensitive to feng-shui, how live things are oriented inside the room direction wise. I lived in Chicago, Bennington (VT), North Adams, Buffalo, Providence and New York city. I feel like I collect experiences in different city. My butt is very heavy so I like putting myself in fresh situation so that I can get moving. Otherwise I would be very stationary. I’ve been residency hopping and traveled different countries. I have to admit that I do not like traveling, but I think it is necessary for me. Each strange and new experience dissolve in my thinking when I put the work together. It usually makes no sense to others but when I see it, it takes me right where it happened. Sometimes I feel like that’s all I have, but I forget easily so I write about everything a lot too.

PGMCS: Have you experienced and challenges or successes relevant to one or the other?

KB: I experience challenge all the time…I rarely taste success, I guess. It is a constant struggle. I would rather just be, instead of pushing myself to do something but it is very hard to do that in New York city. What can you do though? I continue to study awareness, be kind whenever I can, and try not to fall into depression. Life should be celebrated right? I guess there has been tiny moments of bliss when I make paintings. This is probably why I keep going back making them. Just to taste that bliss again. If I can sustain that longer and longer, that would be so awesome.

PGMCS: Is mochi your favorite dessert? Is there a story to your Instagram handle holymochi?

KB: Actually, it used to be my favorite food when I was in undergrad – I must’ve been 20 years old or something. I get like that, once I am into something, I really get into it. I’d eat mochi relentlessly, so friends called me mochi. That was around the time I got my US citizenship, and I made my middle name officially great-mochi. I wanted my name to have a good initial – so it is KGB now (Kate Greatmochi Bae) The handle name holymochi was used back when everyone used yahoo before gmail. I don’t eat mochi anymore – I really should lose some weight. Mochi can be insanely fattening.

PGMCS: Can you tell us about any new projects?

KB: My new project will be a combination of my old paintings and the new sculptural paintings. I’ve been thinking about bridging them together for some time but I just couldn’t visualize them, since they are so different. I will work on that until next year and see what happens. I want to bring back figures, historic elements, my cultural identity and landscapes too.

PGMCS: How was your recent residency experience at Soaring Garden in PA?

KB: It was so awesome. I have to say the time I received there was actually a gift. Sometimes things happen for perfect timing and right reason – you know you are meant to be there. I was there with a good friend Kirstin Lamb, and it was so good to have her around as my energy source. There were other residents and met some interesting locals too. I learned a lot about rural America there. I didn’t really make much work but I got recharged in my energy all the way. I am so grateful for the time I’ve spent there. If anyone needs a month off in a quiet idyllic pretty place, I totally recommend the Soaring Gardens.

PGMCS: What is your favorite thing to create?

KB: Favorite thing…if something looks delicious and smooth, I like it immediately. Add shine, oh I am loving it.

PGMCS: What is the best thing about being an artist?

KB: I think it is the role of the artist. I get to be the culture producer. I can contribute something to the world to be better place. I can make people consider about thinking not the normal way, or the way they haven’t considered. I can inspire others. I absolutely think that is a blessing.

PGMCS: What is the worst thing about being an artist?

KB: I am always broke and am clueless about money, lol. I am learning, but my role model is star trek so I have a long way to go. Also, I can’t seem to hold 9-5 job at all. Being consistent and steady seems something impossible to me. I do work all the time though.

PGMCS: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

KB: Well, I think if you have a calling then you must pursue your path. Art isn’t about money so if you are thinking about making money you should study something else. But if you are serious about being an artist, select your energy and focus on what you want to achieve. Don’t get scattered. Focus and figure out what you want to share with the world. And be patient. Be in your studio a lot, and make art no matter what.

See more of Kate online at and on Instagram @holymochi


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