I don’t remember how and when I got in touch with tribal culture and indigenous people. I have always been interested in them since I was a teenager. My doodles were always of geometric patterns and colors. I started searching for the source of my interest and in 2013, I took a trip to Laos and Vietnam to meet actual indigenous people. That trip completely changed the way I see the world and it defined what I wanted to paint as an artist. Since then I moved to USA from South Korea and started digging more into Native American cultures. In the past decade, I have developed a great deal artistically, but still my art has been about tribes people, the indigenous world, and even farmers and cowboys, who are tribes in their own way. I am planning to take more trips to meet more indigenous people and learn more of tribal cultures.
My art is about people who don’t bring a large capital to the world but exist with us. The people who don’t require much but a piece of their own land and people to depend on.
I find inspiration from lots of diffrent tribespeople all over the world and their culture. And I mix all of them in my mind and create a world that is called, ‘Colorfreak world.’
My life story.
I did not grow up in a rich family,
I did not grow up with fortune.
My childhood was full of poverty, fear, violence and constant struggle without any proper father figure.
My father was an alcoholic who gambled all we had away. He was a violent, abusing, threatening and tragic person. He didn't stick around much after he made us lose our house but whenever he was with us, he disturbed and harassed us.
Painting was the only way to escape from all that and it kept me from hitting the bottom.
As far back as I can remember, I always drew and painted. I can say I was about 4-5 years old when I started painting.
I was always the anxious and nervous kid who was scared of people. I always hated myself and whenever I was alone, I started feeling sad.
I remember, when that kind of time came, I picked up whatever pen or pencil or crayon I could and started drawing.
On paper and on old books, and if I didn't see any paper, then my hands, my clothes, or the walls.
It helped me not feel empty or lonely.
It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do in life.
During my teenage years, I hung out with bad friends. I joined a gang and refused to think about my future. I still painted and that was all I wanted to do, but I didn't want to think about the future of my painting.
I remember one time I was hanging out with the gang on the street and saw a girl from my school carrying a sketchbook. I asked her where she was going and she said she is going to an art studio to learn how to paint.
I still remember the weird feeling when I heard it.
My heart started beating and I felt jealous and at the same time, sad.
During my high school years,my mom, who had started her career as a dish washer, finally opened her own business. My family's financial situation improved.
My mom could finally afford art supplies for me and I could go to private art classes to prepared for the art admission exam. You see, in Korea, if you want to major in art at university, you must pass a special art exam.
When I got to university, I chose ceramics as my major. I thought it was pretty interesting major and I didn't want to major in painting. At the time, I thought majoring in painting would pollute the purity of my art.
I also took on a second major, in fashion design. That was my pragmatic choice for my future. For everyone around me said I would starve as a painter. If I wanted to have a good job, I should study design.
But I always sort of knew I didn't want to be a designer. And at the same time, I was slowly falling in love with the world of indigenous peoples.
One day, university ended, and I had to move on to the real world.
Even after graduating collage, things were not easy. After years of my father's absence from the family, my parents finally got divorced. It was a nasty and depressing time.
And I still didn't know what I wanted to do. My childhood trauma haunted me everyday. I had never slept peacefully during my whole life. And with a stepfather and two stepbrothers moving into the house, I had to adjust to life with a new family.
But this is the time when I met my life partner, my love.
One time he came to my house and found my drawings and paintings in my drawer, where I put them as soon as I was finished and never took them out.
He thought that I had true talent, and he encouraged me to be a professional painter.
And my artistic journey began.
He showed me a whole new world. He made plans for the trips that could inspire me. We traveled a lot. When we went to Laos and Vietnam, that changed my perspective entirely.
We stayed with hill tribes where there is no water, no electricity, and no 'civilization'.
Every night, all the women gathered and started embroidering their traditional outfits. They had natural sense of colors and patterns. I was absolutely fascinated.
For here were people living close to each other, depending on each other, and carrying on their shared tradition. They had no one to speak for them or to share their world with the rest of the world, but all the same they continued on making beautiful patterns and colors.
I came back from my Lao trip full of inspiration and vague ideas of what I should do to make meaningful paintings both for me and the people who need them.
After a few more trips, I came back to my old room and found the drawing I started when I was 19.
I finally finished this painting in 2015 after almost 10 years. And I realized, what I wanted to paint had alway been there and I had to go out to come back. It was the moment when I met my future that I created in my past.Which is the very first painting of 'Colorfreak World'.
After 5 years of dating, half of them apart with him in the US and me in Korea, my husband and I finally got married.
My husband and his father(Ed Brenegar) helped me overcome my trauma and self-hatred, and gain the bravery to say what I need to say though my art and to meet amazing people who could help me.
Creating 'Colorfreak World' with better paintings and meaningful messages, figuring out the most authentic way to express it and finding the people who need it are my life-long project. And I'm still in the earliest parts of my journey.
My entire life has been about overcoming trauma, trying to survive in the cold, brutally cold world.
In search of feeling human, I started painting and I'm still painting.
The Colorfreak Tribespeople are reminders for me and for the world that there are people who live with the culture of their tribes, colors, true authenticity, humanity, honor, and human warmth.
-Colorfreak Jina/Jina Kim