Timothy Hyunsoo Lee
How did you get into debt?
It’s hard to call it “debt” because I see it as an investment. When I decided to become a professional artist instead of medicine, I knew that my resources ALL had to go into my art – my time, my money, my dedication. I squatted for two years in a warehouse so that the rest of my funds could go towards purchasing high-quality materials, and I was never frugal about investing in my practice. In five years, my financial standing has been extremely turbulent – going from maxing out every credit card to having a great year of sales and being able to afford a nice dinner once a week. But in the end, I’ve come to a sort of resignation that I’ll always be in debt because regardless of how much I make, I will always spend 90+ percentage of it back into my studio and my practice.
How does your economic reality effect your art?
The works I create have always been centered around the ideas of identity politics in the context of one’s mortality, and growing up in poverty and seeing the large wealth gap that existed between my community and the more affluent ones around me has already integrated itself heavily into how I view the world and why I create. Knowing how crippling debt can be from my childhood, but voluntarily going into debt for the sake of my art as an adult, my economic reality affects my art so long as I let it command how to execute my works. Considering the state of the contemporary art world now, you see that quite a few artists who create the new “it” works are often able to make it because they come from affluent backgrounds or have received generous funds to make them, and that sometimes bums me out, but that’s the reality of being an emerging artist. I just keep making with what I have, and I’m happy with what comes out so long as my soul was invested in the process.
Would your work look different if you weren't in debt?:
If I had the monetary resources available to me, my practice would change incredibly because it would allow me to funds to expand my practice into new mediums that are “technically” expensive - large-scale installations and video art. My biggest limitation in art currently comes from the lack of funds to execute the concepts I’m constantly developing, but I’ve archived my ideas in sketchbooks and notes.