We met Annie Hong aka HOOTNANNIE at DINNERSREADY studio late in the night. We offered her something to drink and she said ‘Tea please’. This is the interview we, as her former flatmates, and good friends in the neighborhood, got to know more about her as a talented and enthusiastic artist.
I guess you could say that love brought me out here.
Please introduce yourself Annie.
My name is Annie Hong and my artist name is HOOTNANNIE. I’m from California, LA and San Francisco and moved out to Seoul about a little bit over year ago, and have been here working on my Seoul portfolio and solo exhibition.
Where does this name HOOTNANNIE come from?
When I started painting, I dabbled with a lot of different names.
Gnicer with a G in the front to emphasize the NICE and nobody really got it. HAHA. Everyone was like G-NICER?, and I was like No that’s not going to work. So you know, I let it come naturally. One day I was thinking like “This is a hoot” and came up with HOOTNANNIE. It’s got my name in there and if you look it up online it means ‘Just a good time’ and that fits well with my life and what me and my art is all about. Loud, fun, a lot of bright colors, patterns and things like that.
Tell us about why you came back to Seoul?
I feel like a lot of people would ask me, “Why would you leave California? Thats like paradise.” But actually I used to live in Daegu about 5 years ago after college, and I just completely fell in love with Seoul. And I was originally born in Seoul, but I never really got to experience it, especially as an adult. And well, a big part of it was that I was in a relationship with a girl that lived out here so I guess you could say that love brought me out here.
Now I’m in my late twenties, I don’t really give a fuck about what people think about me.
How is it living in Korea as a woman?
It’s hard for me to say because I feel like I’m not a very typical Korean woman, or what they feel like the prototype of a woman is. I’m borderline masculine, and I don’t dress like most girls out here. But my time out here now compared to how I was when I lived in Daegu are totally different. Now I’m in my late twenties, I don’t really give a fuck about what people think about me. I guess I don’t really tend to think about what it means to be a woman here or there. So I can say that I don’t really have any issues with it.
So then what’s it like being a lesbian here in Korea?
I’m surprised about how it is not that challenging. The only difficult part would be keeping it under wraps when I’m at work, but other than that, the people that I meet when I go out or friends that I make, even with Korean friends, will be supportive or just ask like “Wow whats it like?” So it feels like people in our age group are way more open-minded about it. Five or ten years ago it would have been, “No, you have to settle down with a man and have kids. It’s just a phase or whatever.” It’s very different from LA or SF but I’m surprised I haven’t really felt any negativity about it. So it’s been good.
Then how would you describe the lesbian scene in Korea?
I will say that the lesbian scene for Koreans is definitely not as open as the gay scene. Maybe there’s still some patriarchal system in place where the women have to abide by the man, and settle down, become a mother. That is still very deep-rooted in the lesbian community. I mean, it’s changing but, I think there still needs to be a lot of ground work put into place.
Do you think that being a Korean-American has affected your outlook and how you interact with people in Korea?
Yeah definitely. And I feel that it’s different in how I get treated by both the Korean and Foreign populations. It seems like I might not really fit in anywhere. The Koreans may say “Oh because you’re American,” but the foreigners will say “but you’re Korean” So I feel like I can get stuck in the middle sometimes.
It’s definitely from wanting to give back to them and to womanhood as a whole.
Let’s talk about your art.
Like pop art, mixed with pattern design, mixed with simple poetry. I really like to use words. And I’ll infuse the imagery of poems that I write with patterns around it. I love to use bright colors to juxtapose the words that I have.
I mostly work in acrylic and canvas but I recently started this feminist body art project where I’ll take female models, paint on them and take pictures. It is meant to showcase their message to the world as a woman. It’s called I AM WOMAN. I’ve also got a couple places around Seoul with my graffiti art sprayed on it, too. I think these days I’ve been able to dab in different mediums so it’s exciting.
What is the main difference between working with all these different mediums?
When it comes to working on canvas I can do it more at my leisure. But when I work on a wall or woking with people I have to be very quick with it. With a live model, after an hour they can get restless. That has really shaped the style of painting that I do when working with that medium. Of course I’d love to take all day and do this really delicately crafted piece, but at the same time I can’t spend seven hours on it.
What is your inspiration?
My main message seems to have always been that all humans have this ability to have different messages, thoughts, memories, and experiences but at the same time they are all thoughts and memories that we all kind of share. We’ve all had our hearts broken, we’ve all been in a place where we felt lost, or didn’t know what’s going on, or what to think of the future. So I really want to show people that we aren’t alone in this.
So where did the inspiration to do body painting come from?
Well, of course, I’m a queer girl and I think the female body is beautiful. But more than that, I’ve recently begun to express my feminism. So I’ve had this idea for a really long time, but it wasn’t until I came to Korea that I got the motivation to start. It was because I was meeting all these women that were confident or powerful in their own ways. I wanted to express their confidence, power, and beauty back to them. And not just that stereotypical model beauty, but inner beauty. Their beauty that comes from experience. So I wanted to create this outlet where I could use their body as a canvas to present them as a work of art. Because I think that’s what women are. It’s definitely from wanting to give back to them and to womanhood as a whole.
I think we’re in an exciting time for Seoul.
Do you find that it’s hard to be an artist in Seoul?
Kind of, but I think we’re in an exciting time for Seoul. The potential that Seoul has right now was a big factor in why I came back here. If you look at New York, Paris, or Tokyo, these are places that artists have been through and all these influential people have been too. But Seoul is one of those rising cities, in terms of culture, music, art, and fashion. I do feel like a lot of the foreign population has realized that and are starting to ride that wave. And seeing all of these amazing foreign artists has been very inspiring. I didn’t really fully grasp it until I was living here, but I’m aiming to be on that wave too.
So what is your ultimate goal as an artist?
Over the next few years, I want to release a book. I’m thinking more like a poetry illustration book. Or maybe turn I AM WOMAN into a book? But of course, over the next couple of decades of my life I’d like to get into one of those prestigious places like MoMA.
Last question. tell us more about your exhibition.
I’m very excited about it. It’s my first solo show here. You can expect lots of colors. I will display all the canvas works I’ve worked on in Seoul over the past year. Also some of the photographs of my I AM WOMAN project and some prints of the works I have done in San Fransisco. It will be a good mix. It’s also a little dedication to all the people I met and helped me feel at home away home.
Anything else you want to add?
Probably something cheesy. Live freely and dream big. Don’t let anyone stop you from you are doing.