Cassandra Kim is a contemporary artist whose paintings reflect a lifelong love of animals and traditional art. Inspired by the master painters of the past and she seeks to put her own slightly absurd surrealistic twist on art by replacing animals with people. She also has been teaching herself to restore reclaimed antique and vintage wood items to paint on or frame her paintings in. She is a Virginia native and 2003 BFA Illustration graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University, and worked as a muralist and graphic artist for Trader Joes for 14 years. In 2013, the Klondike Gold Rush National Park and Chilkoot Historical Site awarded Cassandra with an artist residency. In 2018 Cassandra turned her focus to her personal art full-time. She has been in exhibits across the United States and internationally.
ME: What is your background and how did you become an artist? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
CK: I always knew I wanted to be an artist, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I went to Virginia Commonwealth University and got a BFA in illustration but when I got out of school I realized two things, I wasn’t good enough yet and I had no clue what to do. I then stumbled across the fact that Trader Joe’s grocery stores hired artists and then settled into working for them for almost 15 years. I was doing everything from huge murals to shelf signs. It was a good job and was wonderful place for me to experiment and develop my skills, speed and professionalism, but I always dreamed of my work being in galleries. Secretly for years on the side I starting working on my animal paintings. I didn’t think galleries would want the kind of art I was creating so I just stacked them against a wall in my studio at home, even though I couldn’t stop working on them. Then, I got pregnant with twins and everything changed. I didn’t want to go back to work and felt glad that my husband and I were able to figure out how I could be home with them. It was then I started looking into galleries and decided to try submitting the work I had been painting for years. I started submitting locally and almost immediately found an amazing gallery that encouraged and helped me find my audience which gave me the confidence to create more. All of that work I had been hiding away ended up being in my first solo show. That solo show was almost 3 years ago and I am beyond appreciative that I am lucky enough to keep painting, this career path has been wonderfully fulfilling and also allows me to be around my kids.
ME: Where do your ideas come from?
CK: I’m a museum geek and I have always been in awe of the elaborate portraits that come from different eras, I’m also a huge animal lover. In my head it feels natural that they melded together, trying to figure out how animal would look if they were painted in different time periods of portraiture. Sometimes it’s as simple as I wonder how a snake would wear a coat from the 19th century? Would he have it tailored with shoulder pads, that thought propels me to sketch and paint how that could look. Sometimes, some people remind me of certain animals, like a duke from the 18th century that has a strange resemblance to a walrus. Those brainstorms make me want to figure out how to paint a duke as a walrus and the sketching begins which leads to the painting. Other times it will be an old frame I find, while repairing it, that may tigger the inspiration.
ME: What is the goal of your art? What do you hope that viewers take away from the experience?
CK: My goal for my art is pretty simple, but I just want people to feel included, welcome and happy. By nature I am an anxious person and I can get overwhelmed pretty easy. Painting is my safe place where I get to paint things that bring me joy and comfort. These animal portraits are very challenging and I’m constantly pushing myself to improve, but also I love them. I hope those feelings I pour into them come out to the people that bring my work into their home. So much in the world right now is upsetting and I often feel helpless, I hope my art can be something that can be hung on someone’s wall and bring a smile to their face.
ME: What are you currently working on in the studio?
CK: Currently I’m getting ready for a 2 person show with Steph Stevenson at Revolution Gallery that opens in August, I’m over halfway through all that work for that and I’m excited about the paintings I’m making for it.
ME: What do you enjoy doing when you aren't making art?
CK: I have 5 year old twin girls so everything is an adventure with them which keeps me pretty busy, we like to go to the library, parks and hike about, but when I not running around with them I love to crochet and bake.
ME: Who are your biggest influences?
CK: I’m a huge fan of the Renaissance era so I look at a lot of art from that time period: Hans Holbein the Younger, Carlo Crivelli, Lavinia Fontana, and William Larkin are my favorites. I also love Beatrix Potter, John Singer Sargent, NC Wyeth, Norman Rockwell, J.C. Leyendecker, Edward Gorey, and Mark Ryden. I look at Guillermo den Toro movies too because I love the lighting and color he uses.
ME: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming/new artists?
CK: Don’t give up, just keep working. Skill comes with time and lots of practice, as does your voice as an artist. If you work and hard are passionate about what you’re creating, there’s an audience for you. Also surround yourself with people who are challenge and encourage you.