CULTURE KLASH: From East to West

By on June 14, 2017

Korean artist finds her niche in Jackson Hole.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Jina Kim sold her first piece of art ever on Thursday. “Someone liked what I made? That’s incredible!” Kim said through an ear-to-ear grin. Her first sale at her Thursday art show at Penny Lane Cooperative was of two canvas bags printed donning her original art. She sold all but two bags that night, and exchanged business cards for a commissioned painting.

The South Korean painter moved to Jackson Hole just six months ago, but her art suggests a much older familiarity with the West.

“Colorfreak Jina,” as Kim calls herself, draws inspiration from tribal patterns and global colors, from Laos to New Mexico and now Jackson Hole. Her art features iconic bison, deer and elk skulls geometrically colored in vibrant blues, purples, greens, often set against the Tetons in the background. As an artist, Kim said that coming to Jackson Hole felt like coming home.

“I can’t even explain what I felt at the time,” Kim said of her first visit to the valley. “Like this is where I belong. It felt like God is showing me where to go.”

Kim’s art has always been bold and vibrant, but such a style didn’t fit in South Korea. Korean style, she explained, is simple, modern, and minimalist. Hers, by contrast, is “wild.”

“I had a hard time as an artist,” Kim said. “I just painted as a hobby at the time because I didn’t want to show anyone. I didn’t want to get hurt.”  It wasn’t until her now-husband Troop Brenegar found her paintings in her closet and encouraged her to  “put them out there” that she even considered a future as an artist.

Kim has since had a series of artistic awakenings. The first was during her and Brenegar’s travels throughout Southeast Asia. The two of them spent time with  local tribes, and Kim was awestruck by the colors and patterns she saw in their embroidery. “It changed the way I see everything,” she said.

Those same colors and patterns have informed her every brush stroke since. Her second revelation was at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. O’Keefe’s use of color felt familiar to Kim. “I didn’t know on earth that there is someone whose paintings are so similar to mine,” Kim said. “It just hit me—that’s me.”

Kim’s confidence swelled after that visit, and her paintings become larger and more frequent. Hers is a family business. Her husband’s father Ed Brenegar is a Jackson resident and Presbyterian Church community member, and started boasting about her work to his friends in the art community. Andi Keenan, owner of Penny Lane Cooperative, was among them, and agreed to host Kim’s first-ever art show. Kim’s paintings, she said, fit perfectly with the “vibe” in her shop.

“What I’m impressed by the most is that [Kim] very quickly integrated herself into the community and let the landscape of Jackson inspire her work,” Keenan said.

“I saw what you were doing here and thought, this is a perfect fit for Jina,” Ed Brenegar echoed. “And here we are. It’s really nice to know you can have a plan, and it actually happens.”

Ed Brenegar acted as proud father-in-law all evening, taking photos and videos of Kim to promote the show on Instagram, glowing almost as much as the artist herself after each sale. Kim’s husband also did his share of gloating, commenting that Kim has become more efficient and dedicated. “It takes you, what, two or three days to finish one of these now?” he said, gesturing at the paintings on the wall.

“Or four or five,” Kim corrected him. The two met while Brenegar was teaching English in Seoul. Kim needed an English tutor, and picked him because she “thought his picture was cute.”

Kim said she wants to see her paintings grow bigger and bolder. Her style continues to evolve to fit the landscape, and reflect her growing confidence. “I can see from my paintings that I got more confident,” she said. “The colors changed, they got more bold, and even wilder.”

She has another exhibition teed up for October, and is preparing to show her work at the art fair this summer. Thursday’s show was her first time ever printing her art on fabric—she sold canvas bags and pillows—and she says it “worked out really well.” Indeed, the canvas bags were her top seller, and are wearable advertising as Ed Brenegar pointed out.

And as far as Jackson Hole living goes, Kim says she’s hooked. “I love it here,” she said. In Korea, everything is right there, 24/7… [In Jackson] I’m not distracted, I can really focus on [making] something really valuable.” PJH

About Shannon Sollitt

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