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Mina Kwon, the artist who loves hip-hop.
“I think the most important thing is to do what you want to do.”
Here’s the interview of Mina Kwon whose work is currently displayed at the TwoSome studio.
Hello. Please introduce yourself.
Hello. I’m artist Mina Kwon who wants to become a cool artist.
You’ve mostly been working with foreign artists. How did you get in touch with them?
I don’t remember exactly how it began, but I used to upload my drawings on my Myspace. Back then, Korean people didn’t really use Myspace or Facebook. However, it’s something foreigners had been using for a long time and they showed my drawings to artists whom I like. Those who liked it emailed me. That’s how we got in touch and that’s how I started working.
What was your first project with a foreign artist?
It was for Samantha Ronson who is a famous DJ. She said she liked my drawings, so I worked on her logo. It was my first project with a foreigner. After that, people like Soulja Boy got interested in my work and contacted me. That’s how I did his mixtape cover. For Chris Brown or Sean Kingston, they saw what I did for Soulja Boy and they contacted me. That’s how I got to work with them.
Your work with Pharrell Williams also caught our attention. I know you say Pharrell is your role model. How was it when you met him for the first time?
Pharrell has been my favorite artist ever since I was a kid. He’s my role model. However, one day Pharrell followed me on my social media. I’m his fan, so of course I had followed him first. However, Pharrell DMed me. He said he liked my drawings and wanted to work me. Then his agent emailed me. To be honest, I didn’t realize what was going on until I met him personally. I only realize it now because I went to the US and personally met him.
Did one of your creations make him contact you?
I like the animated series “Family Guy” and I made a drawing of him with my own style. Pharrell really liked it.
You said you didn’t realize what was going on when Pharrell contacted you. I wonder how your first meeting went.
I communicate via emails with artists overseas. However, Pharrell thinks it’s more important to talk to each other and to communicate directly. I talked to him through his manager before I met him. And when I met him in his studio in L.A, seeing how he thought things over, I did feel that he thought discussing directly was very important to him.
After that, what made you known in Korea was your album artwork for Jay Park. How did you get to work with him?
[I deleted the answer by accident and didn’t have a backup of the original version. Sorry about that]
Is there a difference in the way you work with foreign artists and Korean artists?
I don’t think there’s a big difference. For instance, Dok2 and Jay Park are hip-hop, so I just go with what I feel. Just like the way foreign hip-hop artists do, it’s just how hip-hop is. (laughs)
You also designed Jay Park’s tattoo. Since it was an artwork meant to be on a body, the feeling must have been quite special. How was the working process?
The design was meant to be on a body, so I was more careful than anything. I incorporated the ideas Jae Bum shared when we talked about it.
Your tattoos also stand out. What are the meanings behind them?
Not all of them have a deep meaning. Some of them were done out of impulse. I’d say the “blessed” tattoo on my hand is my favorite tattoo if I were to choose a favorite one.
You’ve often worked with Illionaire artists. It seems you have the same mindset as hip-hop musicians.
Indeed. I’ve been listening to hip-hop ever since I was a kid, so I’m comfortable with it. To be honest, I barely listen to K-hip-hop. Working with Illionaire made me listening to it a lot.
What was the moment when you were the happiest while working?
I think it’s when Pharrell contacted me. I was in a slump at that time, I said on my SNS that I was going through a hard time. Pharrell saw it and DMed. He said “are you thinkging about how you got in this slump? [Don’t] You know you can do it!”. I read this and it felt like the person at the top of the world cared about me. This gave me strength and I said to myself that I should work harder.
How was your mindset afterward?
To be honest, I’m still going through rough times these days. Meeting Pharrell not long ago cheered me up. That’s why I told myself I should work harder.
Soulja Boy did a featuring on Dok2’s album. However, I know you introduced them to each other. How did it happen?
Dok2 liked Soulja Boy. Once the idea of a featuring was out, I asked him as a favor. Soulja Boy said yes right away. But then, he cut off all contact, so I was anxious. (laughs) Here’s another funny story about this. The reaction back then was that his featuring was sloppy. However, if you listen to his other songs, you’d know that he really went all in. But Soulja Boy didn’t send an a cappella file. He sent a file that was already edited. So it’s natural that the quality couldn’t not be bad. The outcome wasn’t good, but I remember how truly happy Dok2 and I were when we listened to it the first time.
I know you’re the one who introduced Lydia and Crush to each other.
This happened through a lot of coincidences. (laughs) I often go to the Illionaire office. I told Lydia to come with me, but she said she’d feel like she’d get bored so she said no. So I told her not to come then. In the end, I forced her to follow me. That day was the first time she met Crush. Crush made us listen to his song. Lydia usually plays indifferent when she listens to someone else’s music, but her reaction was different with Crush’s song. I didn’t really care about it, and I realized at some point that Ji Yong and Young Bae also knew about Crush.
You’re currently a freelancer. A lot of people think you’re actually a YG artist.
I’m not, but it happens often that people know me through my work with them. This opportunity was given to me by Teddy-oppa who liked my work. Thanks to him, I was able to get my work known. Some of my artwork also get featured
in GD’s music videos. Thanks to Teddy-oppa, I got to meet a lot of people and I was able to work a lot.
How did you get to work with YG the first time?
When I worked with Chris Brown three years ago. They knew I was overseas, so the YG overseas manager contacted me and said Teddy-oppa wanted to meet me. That’s why I went to the meeting. It was at a YG office they have there. Meeting Teddy-oppa like this was my first contact with YG.
And then you ended up customizing BIGBANG’s snapbacks and GD’s Van’s sneakers. Does the work process come naturally?
There was a meeting for Ji Yong’s music video. It’s just discussions about any idea and brainstorming, then Ji Yong usually makes his suggestions. He says “we got this here, what about including Nuna [t/n: he refers to Mina Kwon]’s work here?”. So that’s how we do it, or they contact me if they need something and I work on it.
GD’s Van’s customized sneakers was even in “One of A Kind” lyrics. Whose idea was it?
It was Ji Yong’s idea. I just asked myself how to do it, I didn’t try to go with something specific. I just looked for something to match the “One of A Kind” concept. Same goes for the snapback. I made the design on the spot and there are no other like this in the world. However, I noticed there are already counterfeits going around. They even sell it in Japan. Ji Yong’s effect is really amazing.
They say anything GD wears will soon become a trend. These sneakers had a big impact. How do you feel when you see this phenomenon?
When we meet and talk in casual circumstances, he’s like a regular friend. When I see him on a screen, I think to mself “wow~ who’s this? That’s definitely G-Dragon!”. (laughs) He’s younger than me, but there are many things I learned from him.
Today’s interview is at the TwoSome studio. Your artwork is displayed here. Was it a suggestion made by Teddy who currently runs this café?
Indeed. To be honest, my name isn’t really known. People don’t really know my work. Teddy-oppa told me about his café opening not long ago and said he wanted my artwork to be the first one he’d display. So that’s how it happened.
So, are the drawings displayed here your early work?
Once I received this offer, I thought displaying my early work meant that some people could have already seen it. There were many things I wasn’t satisfied with, so I worked on new stuff.
How do you feel when you see your artwork displayed like this?
I’m not 100% satisfied. This feeling of not being fully satisfied is always there. To be honest, it makes me truly emotional. The fact people can keep looking at my work, and when they like it, it makes me happy. When I see my work on the wall, I’m very thankful to Teddy-oppa.
Do you have a favorite piece of work? And if you do, which one it is?
My favorite one is Teddy-oppa with the Simpson style. I’ve been listening to hip-hop from the 90’s, so I’m listening to N.W.A. That’s why I wanted to draw them and I wondered what it’d look like if I mixed it with my favorite cartoon characters, so I turned it into a parody. To be honest, when you look at it, they’re lead characters from different cartoon shows, so I realized no one made the connection [t/n: with N.W.A]. (laughs)
Your portraits of George W. Bush or Audrey Hepburn aren’t the image we usually see. The portraits show an unexpected image. Which aspect do you focus on when you draw someone?
I try not to think about their natural image but what’s unexpected about them. For instance, my Audrey Hepburn wears a du-rag, there can’t be a better strong expression. As for George Bush, it was Teddy-oppa’s idea. We really think alike. Bush would certainly not have any tattoo like this (laughs). However, there was an article in US magazine “XXL”. The tattoos on Bush were the real tattoos of Birdman. That’s how I think about the unexpected aspect.
So, what about your characters’ external appearance?
I think details are very important. For instance, when people draw a Rolex watch, they usually only care about the Rolex logo. I try to think about other details. This is also what Pharrell liked about my work. When we first met, I gave him a drawing as a gift. It was his favorite cartoon character looking like him. I drew the key chain Pharrell always wears, and the character wore the BBC clothes designed by Pharrell. He said he really liked how detailed it was.
What are you currently working on?
A producer will release a mixtape soon, so I’ll do the art cover. And I’m working also with Pharell and 2 Chainz, so I’ll probably do some design. And I’m putting together an exhibition show, so I’m constantly preparing this.
Is there an artist you’d like to work with?
Kaws or Takashi Murakami who are the artists I admire the most. I want to work with artists like them.
Please say a few words to those who dream to become an artist.
I think the most important thing is that you do what you want to do. Because if you force yourself to do something you hate, it won’t work out. That’s why you must keep doing what you want to do. If you want to draw, then you should keep drawing. However, surprisingly, there aren’t that many people who are like that.
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What do you usually do in your daily life?
I think it’s almost always listening to music and seeing my friends. When I’m not working, I see my friends and try to find inspiration when I’m with them.
Which kind of music have you been into lately?
I often listen to Dizzy Wright’s mixtape which got released last month. I’m also listening to Ace Hood’s and Jay-Z’s new album.
Hearing your answers gives me the impression you really love hip-hop. Do you listen only to hip-hop?
I listen to bands once in a while, but hip-hop is 95% of what I listen to. (laughs) I think I listen to hip-hop more than Dok2 does. (laughs)
I know you were overseas recently. How did that happen?
Once the Twosome launching preparation was done, I needed some time off. I always get inspired when I’m in the US, so I often travel over there. I had to meet Pharrell, so I ended up going anyway. I stayed much more longer than I expected. (laughs) I spent almost a month.
What’s the most memorable moment of this trip?
This time, I went to Pharell’s studio and 2 Chainz was there. They’re musicians I had only seen on TV, so it was very exciting. And I knew what Pharell’s unique way of nodding to a beat looked like, but actually seeing him when he made me listen to some music, this is what was the most memorable moent for me. Because he’s my role model and my biggest inspiration.
It must have felt so great to meet him.
I met him for the first time last fall. (laughs) This time wasn’t as serious as the first time, but I was nervous because he’s my favorite artist. However, Pharell really put me at ease. Just seeing this image of him you can only see in the studio truly makes me emotional and it makes me very happy. I think to myself I must work even harder.
The first time I saw you in a Cuvism-related event was for the Alea Playlist Vol. 2. Do you often go to concerts?
I go to almost every Illionaire concert. I often go to Crush’s concerts. I came to Alea Playground to have fun with Min and Irene. The atmosphere was great and the scene was awesome.
When I look at your daily style, you always wear a hat. Is there a specific reason?
There’s no specific reason. It’s just that I don’t really like my hair. (laughs) That’s why I grow my hair long. When I’m relaxed, I take my hat off.
What’s your favorite item among those you own?
I like creating bracelets these days. The one I wear today is also something I created. Sometimes, I give my bracelets as a gift, so you know there’s no other one like this in the world. I think that’s what makes them more special.
What’s your life motto?
“You live once, so enjoy it to the fullest!”. That’s my life motto. I still can’t enjoy life yet, but I’m trying to. Life is a torture when you don’t enjoy it.
What’s your dream as a person and not as an artist?
To become rich. (laughs) That’s because I think your true character comes out when you have some free time. And I want to become someone who always buys food for her friends.
When do you think this could happen?
As soon as three months within next year, I think. If I focus only on work, it can happen fast. This is my dream. Right, I work at home, so I want to have my own studio fast. I hope my drawings will give people a joyful feeling. And I hope it won’t be just in Korea. I hope people all around the world will enjoy my work.
Who’s “Teddy” to you?
First of all, he’s someone who gave me a great opportunity, so I thank him for that. When I show him my work, he always says something nice. So it gives me a bit more strength. I really like his music, so he’s a mentor who always inspires me. To put it easily, there’s Pharell in the US. There’s Teddy in Korea. This is who he is to me.
Please say a word to our Cuvism readers.
Thank you for reading this interview. I did a couple of written interviews, but it’s my first time doing an interview in person. I don’t know if what I said was good, but I hope you enjoyed reading my interview. Thank you!
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Translation: @thesunnytown – thesunnytown.wordpress.com