In today’s episode, I talk with Leeah Joo, a Korean-American oil painter based in Connecticut. Born in Seoul to a sculptor father and an illustrator mother, Leeah moved to Indiana when she was 10. Our discussion ranges from how Leaah navigated the move to the U.S. as a child to how she has told the story of her heritage through her paintings. She studied painting and art history at Indiana University Bloomington and received an MFA in painting from Yale. She currently lives in Connecticut teaching at Southern CT State University and Paier College.
I was fascinated to hear Leeah talk about adjusting to attending elementary school in the U.S. prior to learning English. She describes how her younger self used her drawing skills to bond and communicate with her peers without needing to use words. I can see how her skills with visual communication served her well as a child and as a professional artist!
Leeah also shares that she was encouraged by her instructors in art school to pursue her own identity in her work. She explains that she really embraced this idea when she became a mother and wanted to share Korean folklore with her children. Leeah shares how her mother-in-law’s love of curtains opened her eyes to how fabric can express identity, and she has consistently used realistic renderings of fabric across her various series.Since Leah’s trompe l’oeil paintings consistently include fabric, we spend a moment bonding over the struggle to organize a studio overflowing with textiles.
Leeah’s work has evolved over time, from more overt storytelling toward more distilled representation of ideas. She tells me how Covid lockdown and the resulting closure of her previous gallery actually freed her to explore new themes in her work. As a grounded and established artist, Leeah is focusing on wellbeing and working towards being the best she can be technically as a painter. We discussed the freedom she has to embrace the ebb and flow of her practice, moving from identity-focused narrative to her more recent more formally focused work with confidence.
Biggest Art Crush: Yamoo – shows at gagosian
Dream Trip: Crete and the Hermitage collection in Russia
Film or book: Anne Hollander Fabric of Vision
Favorite meal: Instant Ramen with her own fixings
Shoutout: Roger Shimomora
To see more of Leeah’s work please visit her website and follow her on IG @leeahjoo
The Artist/Mother podcast is created and hosted by Kaylan Buteyn. You can see more of Kaylan’s work on her website or connect with her on Instagram @kaylanbuteyn