For The Love of Beauty. Meet Sculptor Olivia Kim

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Photography by Jessica Campbell of Jessica Campbell Visual Media

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
My name is Olivia Kim. I’m a figure sculptor, specializing in body movement. Much of my work is an act of observation. I love getting a glimpse of the inner nature of people.  

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What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be a visual artist, opera singer or archaeologist. 

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How did you get started? What were some of the difficulties you faced in starting?
It was unclear how to have a career that produced satisfactory high quality work, and to bring in the funds needed to work at that level. One challenge has been managing the timing of all the different aspects of my business, so that payments come in when I need them. Gallery sales are not always regular, so I balance that with commissions, teaching and part time work. It takes time to research and develop ideas, so the time doing non-art things helps me to process many things subconsciously. The biggest challenge has been to believe in my work, and to trust that I will receive the support I need to continue it. Half the time, feeling anxious that there is no support for the arts was the greatest defeat. It’s important to believe that people want to support the arts, and to take on some of the responsibility myself. I try to support other artists by publicizing their art classes through the Rochester Art Club. 

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I started my business in Italy 12 years ago. I learned the ropes from another sculptor, who I eventually became engaged to. We formed a relationship and partnership that was based on mutual understanding and desire to make wonderful artwork. I made most of my living on art commissions and eventually with gallery exhibits. I showed my work and slowly built up enough visibility that people would request work from me. The beginning was riddled with anxiety and doubt. Alongside learning about a different culture and new language, I felt unsure and random because I felt my artistic voice was still undeveloped. Once I realized that I could make my living in Italy, I realized I was tired of it and came back to Rochester. 

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After the move, I worked part time and made my art from that income. I participated in numerous group and solo exhibits, as well as First Friday Open Studios at the Hungerford building. I obtained some good art commissions from that exposure. I continued to expand my technical skills, learning glass and bronze casting from my creative colleagues. I learned how to move my body so I had the mechanical advantage and strength to deal with heavy objects and the delicacy to work with fine glass pieces. It was very uncomfortable the first 10 years of starting out. 

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Eventually I learned to experience the consequences of each decision I made and to tweak every aspect of my business as I went along. My business, just like the art, is an evolving experiment that has gradually produced a more informed foundation. Over time I have learned that an artist is essentially a producer/creator and business owner. Each role has to be timed so that the whole business moves forward. Along the way I discovered what my strengths and weaknesses were and have sought to improve upon my weaknesses.  

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The innovative creator role takes an enormous amount of energy and dedication, and in the meantime, things like taking on art commissions, organizing and teaching classes and lessons, preparing presentations/demonstrations, researching the network of resources available to me, accounting, writing articles, retouching photos, designing and maintaining my website and publicity media and self-publicizing all take time and attention. I decided to juggle all these roles on my own and saw that if I timed everything well enough, I could produce enough income to keep my work moving forward. By learning and doing all these things myself, I know the details that need to be covered when I eventually hire people to assist me. 

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Lettering by Chloé duPlessis

In moments of self-doubt, hardships or failure, how do you build yourself back up?
I remember Beauty. It helps me to let go of myself and be in contact with Origin-al inspiration. I do things out of love for beauty. The most dire moments are transformed when I remember that it all goes toward the creation of something deeply beautiful one day. Every brutal moment of self-doubt is changed by the possibility that something magical may come of it all. 

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What is your best advice to someone just starting out? What advice do you wish someone had said to you?
Even if you have chosen your path out of love, know that any road you choose will be rough. When you choose a path, know that there is no avoiding the ups and downs. Be brave and accept all the experiences and learn from them. I have experienced both love and hate for art, and it is unconditional love that has made it possible to see things through.  

I wish I had been told that creating art takes a lifetime to develop. You don’t need to be famous NOW. That’s an illusion. Cherish all the experiences to learn and deepen your understanding. It takes years of persistence to build up the internal power to make awesome things. 

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What inspires you?
The unfolding mystery of everyday life. Really, it fascinates me. I love silly things and insignificant miracles.  

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What is your favorite part of what you do?
It’s hard to say. Changing gears always takes a bit of effort to do. Once I get into anything, I admit I enjoy it. Favorite experiences keep changing.  

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What do you find most challenging?
Refinding balance amidst constantly shifting forces is the greatest challenge. Developing the sense of when  and how balance is maintained. Understanding when not to push forward. When I need to let go of a piece, person, process/experience. I am tenacious by nature, which is good for follow-through, but not always for letting go. 

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Name some local creatives that you really admire.
My fellow sculptors such as Wayne Williams, Dexter Benedict, Imran Aslam, Leonard Urso and Dejan Pejovic. There are fewer sculptors in this town compared to painters and I admire them for keeping the art of sculpture alive. 

The artists of the art co-op Main Street Arts at the Hungerford building. (My studio is at the Hungerford, and I frequently banter with them during lunch. 😊) The Rochester Art Club, and all the local Art Clubs, which help to support professionals and non-professionals.  John Lenhard, founder of “The Artists Cave.”  Seeing people come together to make art is so important.  There is so much weight given to being a “great artist”, which makes art seem impossible to do for the general public. These kinds of arts organizations help people who have little or no art education come together and create a community of exchange that is very, very special. These communities help to support educational, emotional and creative exchange. By holding group exhibitions, these people also help the rest of the community to see that art is an important part of living. Yes, even your neighbor makes art!

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