sang woo kim on why he’s more than just a model, presented by topman

Meet the artist and latest star of Topman’s Private Views series as we talk personal style, blank canvases, creative autonomy and what he intends to do with his art.

by Tish Weinstock
20 October 2016, 9:00am

With cheekbones that could cut through butter, and a babyfaced smile that would melt even the coldest of hearts, Sang Woo Kim's beauty passeth all others. However, the Seoul-born, London-bred beauty has always been much more than a model. Despite making fashion history as the first Korean model to stomp down the Burberry runway for autumn/winter 14 and securing countless campaigns since, for Sang modelling is more a means to an end, than a life calling. Indeed, it's his role as an artist - first and foremost a painter and more recently a photographer - which truly defines him. It's no wonder then, that he was cherry-picked to star in the Topman LUX chapter of Private Views, an exciting new film series that explores the concept of originality through the voices of four young creatives. Bridging the gap between fashion and art, the Topman LUX instalment invites you into the world of Sang Woo Kim, model, artist, influencer, as he muses on what it means to be working in the creative industries today whilst wearing his pick of its intricately detailed range of modern designs crafted from technical fabrics. Ahead of its release, we caught up with the man himself to talk blank canvases, creative autonomy, personal style and what he intends to do with his art.

What was it like working on the Topman Private Views series?
It was really interesting actually. Within the realms of modelling and being an artist, it's quite difficult to find a middle ground between the two, but the project focused on me being an artist, which made it a lot more personal. It was great to be able to share a bit more of myself, and my work as an artist.

What does personal style mean to you?
I feel that every person has their own personal style that they can pull off well. I think style comes from comfort, and that's a good way to put it. When I wear my clothes it's very intuitive and spontaneous, like my art.

How would you describe your own sense of style?
Unconventional in a conventional way. Clean and easy, I try not to overthink it.

What is it about the Topman LUX collection which appeals to you most?
Topman LUX is effortless, clean and with a touch of class and quirkiness, the perfect amount. It resonates with me. The simplicity of the items make the line so wearable but once it is worn brings a whole different edge to the picture.

How do you find that balance between being a model and being an artist? Do the two ever influence each other?
It's hard to say, because being an artist is who I am, but at the moment I'm currently working more as a model. There's definitely a link between the two. At the end of the day, fashion and art are both creative subjects, they're both very visual. As a model, I'm essentially a blank canvas for a brand, whereas as an artist you're painting onto something that would be me, if that makes sense? That's why doing Private Views was so great as I could portray myself how I wanted, I got to pick what I wanted. I felt like an individual, a subject, as opposed to getting told what to wear, and having to have no personality.

What do you find more personal, showing your work off to the world as an artist or using your own image as a means of selling someone else's product?
Some would say using my face is more personal, but for me it's just a job. If there's an image of me in a store window for six months there's nothing I can do about it, whereas with my art it's about dedication, my love and passion for the work which want to show to the world. I want to be able to touch people, to make them smile, laugh or cry. It's about having an emotional impact on people who view my work.

How would you describe the kind of art you produce?
I'm first and foremost a painter, but recently I've been exploring documentary photography. Travelling as a model has forced me into working with things that have an immediate effect, like photography. It's not like I can take a canvas on a plane or anything. The job has challenged me to do different things. I used to be able to do a painting that looked like a photo, but now I'm trying to achieve a photo that looks like a painting. It's really interesting; I'm using lots of different transfer techniques. It's not a screen print, it's just with an ink jet printer and acetate. It's a very long and technical process that I've found through trial and error. My work is very intuitive and spontaneous, which is in tune with my lifestyle in terms of travelling and modelling and not having any plans.

What kind of themes do you explore in your work?
I'm not really the kind of artist to tell viewers how to interpret my work; it's all about the viewers telling me what my work is about. I like the kind of conversations that arise from looking at art. When it comes to my painting, the work is very immediate, a lot of it originates through accidents, and the marks are spontaneous but also very expressive. It's sort of like I'm conducting a piece as opposed to creating it

You seem to be incredibly interested in art, not just in making it, but art as a subject, how much time do you devote to studying its history and the work of other artists?
The majority of time spent outside of working and painting I spend reading books about artists, reading interviews, watching art documentaries and going to galleries. I'm always intrigued about how things are made, how each artist creates certain effects.

Moving forwards, what's next?
I'm working towards a solo exhibition, it's showing in Berlin from the start of January. It's focused around themes of identity, and will incorporate all the transfers that I've been working on. They started out as images of easily recognisable people and through the transfer the details have been eradicated and become blurred. They're very ghostly, quite like Francis Bacon.

Explore Topman Private Views here.


Text Tish Weinstock
Director Joe Ridout
Film stills courtesy of Topman
Artwork Sang Woo Kim