Suffice it to say this artist’s work is nothing short of delicious: “First of all, I love donuts,” laughs Jae Yong Kim. “Being an artist was my dream—so instead of just eating them, I decided to explore using donuts as a canvas.”
Kim’s work has been the focus of more than a dozen solo gallery and museum exhibitions throughout the US, Asia, and the Middle East. The Korean-born artist’s most recent exhibition, Donut Fear, at Hakgojae Gallery in Seoul, South Korea—which ends this month—has seen over 15,000 masked visitors since debuting at the end of March. “The opening coincided with the time coronavirus hit Korea, so we had to decide whether or not to have the show,” recalls Kim. “Given the title of the show, we felt it was a perfect time to say, ‘let’s not be afraid’—although I was incredibly nervous. But people are so happy to see the colorful work, and it’s brought a lot of smiles in uncertain times.”
In 2012, Kim had his first solo show of donuts at Blank Space Gallery in New York City. Titled Lust for Donuts, the exhibition was an idea he’d been baking for several years. “I started developing the donuts in 2010, and because I’m color blind—I have a hard time distinguishing green and red—most of my work to that point was very monotone and either white, gray, brown, or chrome-colored,” he explains. “I used the donuts as a basis for making color tests until I felt comfortable with the results. After the overwhelming response from that show I was able to overcome my fear of using color and have continued making them ever since.” Each donut is hand-thrown, hand-painted, then glazed—and no two are alike.
Realistic and rather tasty looking, a single colorful donut sells for $950—about what you’d pay for an assortment of 600 Krispy Kreme doughnuts—and prices go up from there. “Blue and white celadon is much more expensive because the fail rate is amazingly high, and those with full Swarovski crystals are also more,” he adds. “People in Dubai and Abu Dhabi go crazy for them. I’m known for sold-out shows there—members of the royal family have actually bought entire installations.” The donuts are usually shown like large-scale paintings, with as many as several hundred donuts in a grouping. “It actually took me over three months to plan the installation layout for Donut Fear!”
Often described as a Pop artist, Kim regularly references the styles of well-recognized artists like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Yayoi Kusama, as he did for Pop Goes the Donut—his 2016 show at Lyons Wier Gallery in New York City. “I didn’t see myself as a Pop artist, so I decided to revisit Pop,” says Kim. “Investigating Pop artists that have come before me inspires] to new works.” Although they’re postponed, Kim is currently working on three museum exhibitions, a solo gallery show, and several public installations in China and Korea.
“I see my work as a visual language that delivers smiles, because life these days isn’t always easy,” says Kim, who also teaches ceramics at the Seoul National University of Science and Technology. “The more challenges I face, the brighter and shinier my work tends to be—and it needs to give me strength and as much of a smile when I’m creating it.”
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