Visual Artist Jisoo Marcy Klatt is a native South Korean artist passionate about music and painting who now lives in San Francisco (USA). She studied painting and ceramics at the University of New Mexico, receiving a BFA in 2012. Jisoo ‘Marcy’ Klatt works on contemporary abstract mixed media series of paintings; watercolor, ink, coffee on paper.
I have the great pleasure to interview Jisoo Marcy Klatt on the occasion of her exhibition from 15th March 2018 to 30th June 2018 at Cafe Bravado in San Francisco.
Jisoo Marcy Klatt, please tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic universe?
I am an Artist and Pianist. I am an introvert, and I love animals, especially my little Border Terrier, Atto. I love to read and love going to old bookstores. I prefer handwriting instead of typing on a computer. In fact, I barely know how to use a computer. I still use a real calendar to write my schedule instead of using an iPhone calendar. I love black and white films, including photography. I love handwritten cards or letters a lot more than emails. I love making my grandmother’s homemade potstickers and homemade food. In music, I like to listen to not only the classics but also old Jazz, especially during rainy days. Actually, today is the perfect day to listen to Jazz. All the machines in my house – the computer, copy machine, blow dryer, even the microwave brakes down whenever my husband is out of town. What did I do? I don’t know… They don’t like me. Yes, I live my life in my slow pace in this chaotic productive world, and I’m thrilled with that.
My universe is all about people who I care about and interact with. Even though I’m an introvert. I love to share art, stories, laughs, joy, and food with people. In my humble opinion, food plays the role of an essential medium in people’s relationship. When I say, “Hey, come on over, I’m making potstickers.” That means “I’d like to share my life with you. You’re important in my life” or “I don’t know who you are yet, but I’m willing to be your friend.” Most of all, food is memory. Thankfully, I have a lot of cherished, nostalgic memories related to food. That made me who I am today.
Were you always interested in art growing up? What motivated you to become an artist and what has been the most touching moment you’ve experienced as a painter?
I remember when I had my first crayon set. I still could feel the rapturous heartbeat, and it was the most fascinating moment in my life. Those 24 colors were stunning, and they even talked to me! Somehow, I wasn’t really into barbies or other toys like ordinary kids. I always drew something or made 3D structures with all kinds of materials that I could find. My dad complained when he read morning newspapers because I got up much earlier than him to get compelling images from the papers. Yes, I cut them out for my art project! Actually, my dad wasn’t mad at me at all, he only scratched his head and mumbled. Even if he had trouble reading the newspapers, he definitely respected me as a little artist. My dad was an architect, who taught me how to sharpen a pencil, how to draw lines, how to mix the colors. He wanted to be an artist when he was growing up, but he chose a career as an architect to take care of his family. Actually, art was not the only passion I had. I started to take piano lessons when I was 3 years old. My mom found out I reacted very emotionally whenever I listened to Chopin. Music became a big part of me, and I became a successful music educator.
I registered for a painting class in a community center while I was pursuing a career as a music educator. After the first day of class, the instructor came to me, “Would you please drop out the class? This is a very easy, relaxing and sort of a hobby class. But, you are way advanced and serious about art. I’ve got complaints, that you make the entire class uncomfortable. I’m sorry, I’ll refund the fee.” Yes, I got kicked out! After I came to the U.S, I actually got kicked out of a community center art class. Again! The instructor told me, “This is not the right place for you, please go to an art school. Please don’t come back.” My husband said, “Don’t be a chicken. It’s time for you to follow your dream.“
A week later, I was at an art school, in the dean’s office, with my portfolio. Since then, creating art has become my language for sharing my stories about life.
Several years ago, I got a commission for a painting. My client lost her dog not long before, and she wanted to get a portrait of her dog. A dog portrait? I’d never done that kind of commission work before, so I was little nervous, but I was thinking about my little Border Terrier Atto and I totally felt my client’s loss. I asked her to send me the dog’s pictures through my email. She sent me the most pretty pictures of her dog. They were all excellent pictures, but something was missing. I didn’t want to paint just a cute dog like you would see on a calendar. Please don’t get me wrong, those are lovely and sweet. Many people love those calendars. Instead, I wanted to paint a portrait of the dog, a particular dog, HER dog. So, I asked her to send me more pictures even if they didn’t look good in her eyes. I finally picked one image which was far from those perfect pretty dog pictures. When she received the finished painting, she had tears. She said, “I totally forgot how silly Sam was. This is not a painting, but my silly Sam!“
What else could I want, nothing. I was the happiest artist in the world.
For many artists, creativity is first preceded by a phase of observational learning. What is this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist?
I’m a storyteller. I always collect stories around me. They may be of me or those of the other people in my life. Yes, it is all observation, and for me, that is all about relationships. How much I understand myself, and the world, or willing to understand this world is a fundamental process.
I am always developing as an artist, and that actually happens while I’m working. As long as I keep trying to find better ways to execute a technique or idea, it happens. It also helps that I don’t focus on only one painting. I work on two or even three paintings same time. I learned to do this several years ago while I was stuck in a body of work. I was fighting with that one painting for almost 6 months and couldn’t finish. I couldn’t stop thinking about the unfinished piece. I kept staring at it for hours. It was so painful… I hated, hated, hated it! My head, heart, and hands were against me. So I started to make a second piece, right next to the unfinished one. I didn’t put it away! I didn’t look at the first one but started the third one. I worked back and forth, between the second and the third. A month later, I started looking at the first one… hmm… I see…I got it… I finished that piece in two days. A new idea, a new medium, a new technique…work the method, using even my old habits…. I continuously develop and still keep going. Yes, the ideas don’t always come to me, it always takes more time than I think it should. It feels like I’m driving without a map. It is a long journey, and I don’t know where or when it will end. But, I always find something and learn something. There are no words to express how I feel about the mysterious journey. Just keep going and going.
Your manipulations stand out in incredible quality and technique. Could you explain your creating process?
It starts with a story. The story is the most critical part. I usually pick a story about a particular moment in my life. Then I choose a photo related to a place where I’ve been, what I saw, either by myself or with my husband. After I finish painting the background, I use equations that suit the story and draw them directly on the canvas. No prep work with pencils or no tracing from books or anything. I literally draw every single symbol. I love this intense, precise, patience required, and the technical process. Somehow I feel like I’m a composer or conductor using those equations as a musical instrument in the symphony. It is definitely so much fun, it’s fascinating and magical!
Was there a particular event which triggered you to start painting “Perception” series? What were the most challenging aspects of the process?
Several years ago, my husband and I were both in school. He was earning his Masters’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering, and I was working on a Bachelor of Fine Art, as a studio major. In that time, we lived in a 2-story small townhouse. He occupied the upstairs to do his thesis. Books were all over the floor, piles of research papers were on the desk, empty mountain dew cans were here and there… Star Wars movies were on the screen 24 hours a day while he was working. Downstairs weren’t that different. Paintings, easel, piles of papers, dirty brushes, clay, strange parts from junkyards, sculpture tools, all kinds of art materials you could imagine. And we barely interacted with each other because we were so busy with what we were doing.
One day we accidentally met in the kitchen, and both of us were shocked. Oh my!!!, He looked terrible… In my eyes, he looked just like a pale skinned, red-eyed zombie with a mountain dew can. In his eyes, I looked like a cave woman, paints were all over me, and I had crazy hair. We couldn’t say a word. Silence. Finally, he said: “Let’s get out of this house. Right now.” I couldn’t agree more.
So, we drove to the nearest park and sat down on the bench. It was literally one beautiful day. Blue sky, birds were singing, beautiful flowers, butterflies, lily pads on the pond, kids were feeding ducks, and a mild breeze. Most of all, the fresh air! I closed my eyes and breathed in the fresh air so profoundly. That’s right; this is what I missed.
I was enjoying the atmosphere every single second, … Suddenly, my husband said, “Marcy, give me a pen and paper, hurry! ” What? “Don’t ask me, just, please. Hurry up.” I tried to find a piece of paper but couldn’t find anything but a Walmart receipt. I handed the receipt to him. As soon as he got the receipt, he started to write something. I thought: you know what?…maybe… maybe he is going to write a lovely poem for me. I mean he does that once a while. Awwww, what a romantic guy…
5-10 minutes later, he was so excited, and he handed me the Walmart receipt. I looked at it. Ahhh… It wasn’t a poem… but a fluid dynamics equations… He had a huge smile, which I’ve never seen before. He said, “Marcy! The water reflection around the lily pads inspired me! I’ve been so frustrated this whole week with the equation, and I finally found out the answer! Yahoo!” I was in shock, speechless, and not just because he didn’t write a romantic poem for me. How come he perceived everything totally differently? We’re in the same place, same time, watching the same scenery, breathing the same fresh air, yet we perceived things so differently…That’s how “Perception” started.
The whole “Perception” series was entertaining and exciting work, but there were several challenges. First, I had been using watercolor for a while, so changing to a new medium, oil paints required some time to adjust my hands and improve my hand-brush coordination. Second, Perception is a semi-abstract realism style. I had to render the nature as real as possible. The most challenging process was the equations. What equations suit the painting? How do I arrange the equations? What color? What size? It required a lot of research to execute. For example, in the “Andante Cantabile Con Espressione“, I found the exact air flow circulation equations. They flow in the air, just like I rendered in painting, surrounded by the leaf. The way the equation floats in the air is just like music to me. When I saw the early morning scene with dew around the leaf, It reminds me of Mozart’s Piano Sonata K.333 in B flat Major. Yes, it was not easy and took a lot of time, but I really enjoyed it at the same time.
Water is part of each painting of your series “Perception.” Is water, for you, the driver force of all nature, as Leonardo da Vinci used to say.
The use of water in “Perception” reflects someone’s perception of my perception of the world. To my husband water was the answer to an equation. To me, it is a memory of a place my husband and I went to and music. When I think of water, it’s not only a necessary element for survival, but it has strong meanings on the psychological level. Water is calming, soothing, relaxing, purifying and even healing. Water is in nature, and it is a part of me. But the calmness of water is easy to forget in this chaotic world. I hope the water scene can be a bridge, connecting people through varied perceptions, observing the world differently, but together. Yes, I hope to remind people of their own memories, and the cherish those moments through my “Perception” series. More than that, I just wanted them to relax when they see “Perception”. I’d love to say, please sit down, and enjoy.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Dream Within a Dream”, published in 1849, explores the difference between our perceptions of life and the effects of time. Within the poem, he illustrates a human life slipping away, trickling like “sand”, and implies that our existence is insubstantial, just an abstraction of the mind. How do you see the relationship between your perception of the world and the world itself?
I always used my own imagination to create my own world. My world was all about music and art. I preferred making some kind of art instead of playing with Barbies or doing outdoor activities. I loved classical music. Music with lyrics? Not really… Somehow I couldn’t hear the lyrics at all, only the instruments – that is true even today. I could imagine whatever I wanted, in my own way. It could be a surreal, fantasy, sci-fi, funny, sad, romantic, mysterious… anything I could want.
When I was six years old, my parents invited my friend’s family over. After dinner, I took my friend to my room to play. I picked scissors, paper, and crayons to make something and she picked up a Barbie to play with. After a while, she became upset because she thought I wouldn’t play with her. She pushed me, and the scissors went through my left chick… The dinner party ended up in the ER. I was very upset, and not just because of the pain. Why was she upset? We both chose precisely what we wanted to do. I couldn’t understand. I think that was the moment I realized I was very different than other kids. My dad said, “I know you’re upset, but it was an accident. Things happen. By the way, you have an amazing artist scar!”
I still have the scar. Every time I see it, it reminds me what my dad said. It leads through life and tells me to live at my own pace of life: the analog experience. The way I perceive things in the world is slow, analog style. It’s not only for speed or accuracy. The natural character of aesthetics fascinates me. The natural things… Live daily life, interact with people, make food and share with friends, laughing, crying… all these are part of analog life to me.
What are the feelings you are trying to convey or expect people to have when interacting with your art? Do you think people will understand your husband’s equations on your paintings of “Perception” series? Are they a clue to understanding your perception of the world?
It was delightful to watch people argue about my painting, especially my painting titled “Interlude, between water and…” I saw that some people bet the money on where the rocks were located (in or out of the water). They asked me to answer that.
The equations represent water. Literally water! But I wanted to put a little twist. The ambiguity was the fun part… Half of the crowd said the rocks are in the water because of the title which indicates that the water is more important. The other half of the crowd said the rocks location changes depending on the physical distance. Actually, nobody really cared about the equations except engineers. Or, someone who really wants to know what kind of equations they are. Yes, only a few people were really interested in just the equations, but most of the people were not.
Was I upset? Not at all!
So the equation doesn’t have to be a clue to understanding. It could be anything. They were music to me. I used the word ‘Interlude’ not only to describe space or pause but also as the musical term …an interlude is instrumental music playing between the parts of a song or play. Those water and rocks were Interlude to me…
Finally, I answered, “Where are those rocks? In the water? Out of the water? What is your perception?”
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?
I believe that it takes 10,000 hours to make a miracle. In my humble opinion, hard labor leads to creativity. The creative idea doesn’t come up overnight. Even if I have a fabulous creative idea, it isn’t always executed as I imagined. I always learn something more during the process. Sometimes I find out a better technique to use specific materials. Sometimes later executions are much better than the first because I keep trying to find a better way.
It took 14 years to make “Marcy’s potstickers“. I got a fantastic pot sticker recipe from my mom, and she got that from her mom. Well, their recipes have no ratio system. Every time I ask my mom for the ratio, she says: “a little bit of this, a little bit of that”. I tried and tried to make mine just like their amazing potstickers. Finally, I made my own additions to my own creative potstickers. I use seasonal ingredients and even the recipe changes depending on who is eating. Do I measure? No! Do I have a perfect recipe? No!
Are they creative? Yes! Are they delicious? OH YES!
Thanks again, Jisoo Marcy Klatt, for the opportunity to interview you for Creativinn! Are there any final thoughts or words of advice you have for our readers?
It took 6 years for me to do my first solo exhibition. I was so afraid to fail; the self-doubt was killing me for many years. But some people cared about me. And somehow, I never gave up my dream. I didn’t know when or where, but I knew I would do it someday. I believe in 10,000 hours a miracle is made. We are so critical of ourselves and give ourselves very little credit. Just take one step, the first one step is the most challenging part. But, right after the first step, we’re good to go. It doesn’t really matter if it will succeed or not. Through this exhibition “Perception” I’ve learned a lot more about myself. I found out how much I really care about others and that I want to be a person who could kindle someone’s heart. In the opening reception, one person from the crowd came to me, “I’m a chronic illness warrior. You and your work really inspired me to follow my dream.” This is the type of connection I long for while creating my work.
I believe we all have our own internal clock, working at our own pace. Believe in that and then work towards something you love.
My time has come, and I will take the advice of Professor Feinberg: “Go fight like a tiger. You can do it!”
Thank you so much for reading my story and the additional questions. Hope you enjoyed it and can feel some connection with me!!
Jisoo Marcy Klatt
If you want to see Jisoo Marcy Klatt’s artwork, the best is to visit San Fransisco!
- Design Center, 101 Henry Adams St, San Francisco, CA 94103
Bravado, 170 King St, San Francisco, CA 94107
In the meantime, have a look at her website and discover all her artwork we didn’t mention in this interview: www.jisooart.com