Meet artist Ro
Shin-Kyoung who is building unique world of her own by sewing machine drawing
“A needle instead of a brush, a piece of cloth instead of a sheet of paper”
She works at home. She thinks the best place for sewing machine drawing is her
actual living space. Her work is not an act of art separate from living space.
Her mother and grandmother sewed in the same space where their husbands and
children slept. Likewise, Ro Shin-Kyoung mixes her work space with her living
space. She believes that the birth environment of sewing machine drawing and the
work environment of creative work are not different.
What is the meaning of cloth and sewing work?
I am a feminist. But I am not a heavily-armed feminist against males. I am a
feminist who has sufficient understanding and sympathy on femininity. From this
perspective, working with cloth and sewing is a scale and a philosophy which
complete my version of feminism.
The phallicism-focused theory of French philosopher Jacques Lacan actually has
very ancient history. Femininity always had been something owned by males. It
could have a meaning only on the extended line serving the pleasure of men.
Sewing is one of the chores that can be done only by the oppressed females.
There had been some men who did sewing. Knulf in the novel of Herman Hesse was
good at sewing. There are some male artists who used quilt skill or pieces of
cloth. The well-known Picasso created the word, “collage”, by using some cloths
on his work, “A still work with rattan”. William Morris in U.K. also created
amazingly delicate and beautiful artworks using weaved carpet in 1870s.
However, still the act of “sewing” is an exclusive act by female and it is
universally accepted as such. Thanks to it, the sewing gave birth to the art
fields of quilt and patchwork and some feminist artists claimed that the sewing
is the true and exclusive culture heritage of the females.
Can you tell us why you call your work as sewing machine drawing?
That is an important question because many people called my work as a “sewing
art” or “quilt”. First, I feel I lose my genre if my works are called a “sewing
art”. I feel it lacks a root. My works are closely related to the drawing. In
general, drawing uses lines and it has strong meaning as a basic sketch.
Drawings are also found in wall drawings or engraved drawings in Old Stone Age
The drawing had been acknowledged as such primitive act; however, it met a big
change in awareness by Joseph Beuys of Germany. He said drawing is an
experimental process for experience. He said drawing is a shape of thought and
an artist should deal with thought like they deal with sculpture. Then the
recent modern expression of “automatism” came, which is a concept based on
unconsciousness. It means drawing something freely without any thought. This
concept gave an important impact on 20th century art history.
As explained before, my works are drawing in modern sense. They are the results
of work which draw the feeling and thoughts within unconsciousness.
Sewing can be understood as a concept comparable to collage in modern art
history. My work method is filling the screen by automatism which utilizes
various sewing techniques and free colors.
I think my works are quite different from quilt. First, the quilt is made on the
underlying sketch already drawn. Also multiple people make almost same quilt
work with specific purpose. However, my works are creative drawing work. It is
same as brush paintings while only my tool is the sewing.
We feel your works give Korean feeling. Do you also think so?
As said before, my drawing is a form of living act which had been practiced by
all females in East and West since ancient time. And it advanced to drawing
recently. Therefore, the identity of my work cannot be defined as Korean or as
Oriental. I think my works give Korean feeling because I use Hanji (Korean
traditional paper) paper screen and traditional Korean cloths. In fact, it can
be explained as the color-field painting. The concept of color-field painting is
that the colors have existential identity as color itself, instead of being a
tool to fill a space. Therefore, the canvas of color-field painting became very
big and the colors became stronger. Color-field paintings link color-fields by
dividing the colors vertically and horizontally. Artists like Mark Rothko and
Barnet Newman are representative color-field painters.
I had been seeing my grandmother sewing since I had been a child. After I had
started artwork, I did experimental sewing works on aprons, table cloths or
dishcloths. I always recall the loving memory of my grandmother; therefore, I
feel warm when I saw patch cloths or old clothes at home. In fact, they became a
canvas for me. I think these materials became the Korean feeling of my works
regardless of my intention. It is true that most of my background materials or
dyestuffs are Korean traditional materials. From such perspective, it is correct
that my works are “Korean sewing machine drawings”. And I also majored in
eastern-style art in the university. Ha, ha.
Your recent works have many skyscrapers and buildings. Is there any reason?
I do not have specific intention. I just worked following my feeling on what I
saw. I worked at the window side of the living room at my home. I can lookout
where I live easily. I see many skyscrapers and numerous movement-lines running
through them. They motivate my sewing machine running on the cloths. I am not
criticizing or complimenting the building-forest in city-center. My hand and
foot just follow what I see and what I want. But there are stories in my works.
I try to show communication, overcoming the estrangement and isolated
My work reconstitutes the hidden memories by cloths and threads. One of the
critics said on my works that “Ro Shin-Kyoung speaks with thread and hears with
eyes”. I think it expresses the feeling of my works quite well.
When I had stopped by the individual exhibition of Ro Shin-Kyoung, an Iranian
businessman and artwork collector came into the gallery. As Ms Ro had not been
at the exhibition place at the time, I volunteered to help him. The gentleman
said that he had visited three times already to buy an artwork of Ro
Shin-Kyoung. He looked for Ro Shin-Kyoung to buy one this time since he is
leaving for Iran the next day. I later heard that he bought one of Ro
Shin-Kyoung’s works. In that same week, there was a dispute between Iran and
Korea regarding the economic sanction. It was an unexpected coincidence. Anyhow,
I just want to say that there is an artwork of Ro Shin-Kyoung in Tehran.
Meanwhile, when I looked at so-called “successful” artworks these days, most of
them are full of Korean feeling and atmosphere. It seems that the Korean
attractions coming out of philosophy and firm self-control of artists became an
important driving force in overcoming the negative influence of economic
Every day, there are many foreigners visiting galleries in Insa-dong and other
places in Korea. However, there is no acceptable system to explain the Korean
artworks to foreigners except a piece of information leaflet. I think this is
something which we should have a serious consideration.
Ro Shin-Kyoung (born in Seoul in 1977)
Ms Ro graduated from Seoul Art High school in 1996 and the Department of
Eastern-style Painting at Sungshin Women’s University in 2000. After completing
the master course in the Graduate School of same university, she is now in
doctoral course. She also teaches in Incheon University.
Ms Ro had her first individual exhibition at Samjung Art Space in 2002. Since
then, she had 7 more individual exhibitions and participated in 40 group
exhibitions till today.
In 2009 and 2010, she participated in Asia Top Gallery Hotel Art Fair. She
received Art & Critic Award at the Korea Selected Artists Exhibition in 2009. In
same 2009, she received Encouragement Award at the 5th Kyunghyang Art Grand
Exhibition. At the 2010 Korean Art Grand Exhibition, Ro Shin-Kyoung received the
Best Artwork Award in the category of Art Non-figuratif.
Works of Ro Shin-Kyoung are archived in 8 places including the National Museum
of Contemporary Art and the Art Bank.
Writer & photographer:
Jo Seong-Il, Member of Editing Committee