Unified Moon at Kang Nam Station

We chat with artist Sam Thomas about his exhibition Unified Moon, which is currently on at Kang Nam Station Korean restaurant on Queen Street. Unified Moon is made up of works Sam developed while on an Asia New Zealand Foundation artist in residency in Seoul in 2018.

The SeMA Nanji residency allowed Sam the opportunity to experiment with new tools and processes

Can you tell me about Unified Moon?

The paintings experiment with metal working techniques and are influenced by research into traditional Korean hammered brass called Bangjja Yugi.

During 2018, international media was focused on North Korea and several high profile meetings between Kim Jong-il and Donald Trump. This tension wasn’t felt much at all in Seoul as many people I talked to said they were comfortable with the relationship between North and South. Some visual themes of borders, doors and walls, however, did appear in the paintings that I made. A selection from this series will be displayed at iconic Auckland restaurant Kang Nam Station in December 2020.   

What inspired the work?

My intention going into the residency was to use the time and studio freedom to learn new techniques to add to my practice. I aimed to expand on the hammered brass I had already been making and experiment with new tools and processes. This focus on form rather than concept led me to test new materials like copper and use blow torches and carved wooden molds as production tools. The paintings I ended up creating were a significant shift from the way I had been working previously and resulted in more nuanced textures and deeper reliefs. 

Can you tell us about visiting a Bangjja Yugi workshop?

A research highlight was visiting a family-operated Bangjja Yugi workshop a short train ride out of Seoul.

Several generations of one family lived together at the workshop; it was great to learn just by watching them make.

Largely they made gongs and bells that are produced for Buddhist temples around Korea. We did collaborate on a small object that features the characteristic Bangjja Yugi textured surface.

A key method they introduced me to was the use of heat in making the metal more malleable. They had an amazing furnace set up operated by the head artisan’s burly grandson who became my guide to the different processes. Since watching him work the metal with heat, I began using a hand held blowtorch which is used to soften the metal in my paintings. 

It would have been great to collaborate further; however, the expense associated with the materials and labour kept our involvement limited. If budget was not an issue it would have been a dream project to develop all of the external panel-work of a Hyundai in Bangjja Yugi brass. 

Sam working on a copper art work

Sam working on a copper art work

How did being in Seoul and at the Sema Nanji residency influence your works/practice?

The SeMA Nanji residency was a highlight for my practice. Seoul has a dynamic contemporary art scene, which is well patronised by big Korean brands. The residency facility also was fantastic for being centrally located but within the natural environment of a park so that the city never felt too busy. A lasting influence from my stay is a taste for Soju and bimimbap, which I still have regularly when I remember my time there.

Why do you think residencies such as the SeMA Nanji residency are important for the arts?

SeMA Nanji was a stimulating creative environment to work from because of the number of artists participating at the residency at once. There are over twenty domestic artists doing year long residencies all at different stages in their careers as well as five  international artists completing three-month stays at the residency. There were regular opportunities to meet and critique each other's work and become exposed to new influences.

Sam's exhibition Unified Moon is on at Kang Nam Station, 329 Queen St, from 5 - 25 December