It’s no secret that Jeainny Kim, the star student artist behind the (as) Thick as Thieves show, has received the much deserved attention for her original and riveting scanner works. Through it all, she was awarded the prestigious Louis B. Sudler Prize, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation Visual Art Award, and the Benenson Awards in the Arts just to name a few.
But it wasn’t always like this from the beginning. Having painted for seven years before picking up the camera in high school, Jeainny would host photoshoots with friends and pursue personal projects for her classes. The idea for her “camera-less photography” didn’t stem until taking MJ Sharp’s photo workshop course sophomore year, in which one of her classmates referred to a comedy scene of someone scanning their butt on a printer. And it just hit her. Filled with adrenaline, she grabbed anything that was in her reach - a jar of marinara sauce, olive oil, a few expired condoms - and made her way to the Center for Documentary Studies.
“I arrived around 6PM, knowing that most people left the building around this time. My young self thought I was being pretty clever, since nobody could now kick me out for doing something wack to the scanner.”
And the rest was magic. Of course, it wasn’t always easy. Unlike the camera, the scanner can’t accommodate for depth. Even an inch off the screen would make the image look blurry, and working with free-flowing liquid is always a fight against time. Her images require precise calculation and much pre-planning. Which objects should she lay down first? How do you avoid dust residue? Through trial and error, she’s been able to create the know-hows that have allowed her to produce the riveting pieces in (as) Thick as Thieves.
(as) Thick as Thieves was not only Jeainny’s first professional solo show, but it was also her debut to the world as an artist. Initially, she had planned on presenting her portraits and scanner works side by side. However, during the process, the devastating Las Vegas shooting happened, which forced Jeainny to reconcile with personal trauma. The outcome of that healing process was the Mandalay Bay Suite 2017 series – a whole new side of the artist that could not be seen in her previous works. The series is the physical embodiment emotions that had been triggered by an incident greater than a personal relationship. This resulted in her ultimate decision to build the show focusing on purely the scanner works to address the pressing issues of gun control and violence.
It would not be a stretch to credit her ability to utilize her art as a means of healing to her favorite artist: Vincent van Gogh. She fell in love with van Gogh’s paintings for their unsettling intensity during her painting years and set off to see his works in person when backpacking through Europe. It was then she saw La méridienne and fell in love all over again. “I remember standing in front of the painting in awe. [It] was both peaceful and radiant. I was blown away at how someone could capture the beauty of tranquility. I had been tense from traveling alone, but the painting calmed me.” It was through this painting she learned that art was more than a luxury. Art has the power to help us cope, escape, or even heal.
Art is creative, but creativity doesn’t always imply simplicity. It’s Jeainny’s personal hardships and limitations that have brought out her most creative moments. And like everyone else, she has had her ups and downs. She confessed, “I didn’t make a single piece of work from October 2017 to March 2018.” With all her accomplishments, it’s easy to forget that the person behind the camera is only 22. But she’s never idle in her attempts to overcome creative blocks – she recommends The War of Art by Steven Pressfield to those who are seeking advice. “I finally realized that I needed to leave my coddled comfort zone and show up to work.”
“I used to believe that portrait photography was a one-sided conversation. I was the listener, making out the emotions my subjects presented.” But this changed coming to college. Wanting to get to know her subjects better, she started to open up. “Now, I come forward and meet them halfway, to greet emotion with emotion and equal vulnerability.” The same attitude applies to her scanner works. Her prints are simply a product of the same exchange of trust, a tangible outcome of my human interactions. In essence, creating still life allows Jeainny to release emotions and regain equilibrium. Scanner works or portraits, she desires both types of pictures to feel familiar, hoping that people will be able to experience the same intensity that she feels in each human interaction.