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Two artists showed their dynamically different work side-by side in the S.A.L. Gallery from Feb. 26 to March 3.

Karen Cohen displayed a collection of nude photography entitled, “Naked Ambition,” and Chie Kim highlighted her mixed media and acrylic paintings in her collection, “Histories of Self Portrait.” Both collections hold importance to the artists that created them.

Continuing her undergraduate ambitions about her fascination with nude photography, Cohen put together this exhibition for her master’s thesis. “I started doing my undergraduate 30 years ago with film and then I transferred over to digital to finish my master’s.”

Cohen’s undergraduate thesis was in 1987, and developing the technique for working with a digital camera has been one of the biggest challenges she faced.

The photographs are printed on canvas, and each picture was taken through a sheet of wavy glass which distorted the subject behind it. There is a lot of experimentation with colored lights depicted in the photos as well. “I place the light in different areas, and when I go and look through the viewfinder, that’s where I start creating,” Cohen said. The neutral skin tones of the subjects allow for the mixing of colored lights to create bright colors, while the glass gives the impression that the photos are instead paintings.
“I really love the mystery of [the pieces], and you’re not sure whether it’s photography or a painting, I love to confuse people,”Cohen said.

For this reason, all of the photos are untitled. “I feel they don’t need a title, I would really like the viewer to decide what the title should be,” she said.

Karen Cohen and her untitled photo of her daughter

Cohen printed on several different types of media before settling on canvas. Having done multiple prints and contact sheets, she chose which look she preferred.

“There’s so [much] new technology now to print on besides just paper,” she said. One option for her was stainless steel. “I did maybe four or five different [media] in all different sizes,” she said.

Afterwards, she discussed what worked and what didn’t with Allison Rufrano, adjunct professor of art.

“She comes from an analog background and an experimental one,” Rufrano said.“You can see in the the work that she still has that experimental aspect in her.”

Cohen’s daughter is the subject of one of her photos and inspires much of her artistic work. “She’s one of my favorite subjects to photograph,” she said. “She’s always been a role model for me in bringing me up to the modern world of technology.” In the photo, a mysterious air comes from the subject’s expression as she looks away from the camera.

“Karen has such a comfort level; you can see the comfort in her
models, so you can see the connection and the sensitivity she has to
her subject,” Rufrano said. “I think that’s most important.

Kim shared the gallery’s spotlight with her collection of works detailing her transition to adapting to life in America. One of her more prominent pieces entitled “Encyclopedia” portrays Kim’s life story.

“When I came to America, the encyclopedia was my only friend who helped me to understand the new environment,” Kim wrote in her artist statement. “[It inspired]me and [led] me to another world.”

She carried an encyclopedia with her when she came to the U.S. in 1963 and said it was hard to adjust to the country without familiarity with the English language.

“Encyclopedia” depicts items of personal significance that helped Kim along her journey, such as the emblem from her previous school, Sookmyung Women’s University, as well as a pair of gloves and a pair of flat shoes. Kim used to wear high-heeled shoes often, but they became inconvenient as she had to rush to attend extracurricular English classes. “That’s why I cut off high shoes and [made] them flat,” Kim said.

The painting “Encyclopedia” also depicts a degree, representative of Kim’s academic ambitions.

Chie Kim and her mixed media piece “Encyclopedia”

“Based on my knowledge, I trained my courage,” she said about the depiction of her former school’s badge. “My college stimulated me to go to the United States, a very advanced country and I had to learn new things.”

Another painting, “My College,” depicts a mirror with a face painted into the glass. This represents Kim watching her past, present, and future. “The mirror is showing my self-identity with hard circumstances that I had to face,” her artist statement reads, “Even though the situation was hard, I tried to be optimistic and hope for [a] better future.”

Some of Kim’s paintings depict her original poetry printed to look like pages of a book. The poems were written in alternating Korean and English. When she painted, pictures came to mind, and when she wrote, the stories also inspired a picture. The images seemed alike to Kim so she incorporated them both into one piece.

Kim’s mixed media pieces are composed of items she found outdoors. Her piece “Flight of the Butterflies” focuses on a forked branch that she spray-painted in different colors. “When I take on new media, I really have a hard time, but I learn a lot.” Her professor Seung Lee gave her a lot of influence in creating the projects. “It gave me hope for what I have to do for the
future [in] my life,” she said about Lee’s influence.

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