Hoseok Youn

Glass

Kansas City, USA

Interview

hoseokyoun.com

@hoseok_youn

Hoseok Youn is a South Korean glass artist bringing our childhood fantasies to life through his inventive glass works. Masterfully crafted through traditional Venetian stemware practices and modules, Youn’s BEAST series explores his fascination with youth, character design, and consumerism. Each work is painstakingly made entirely of deconstructed goblets. As we zoom into his work, we fall more and more in love with the intricacies: Gundam-inspired shields created from disassembled Venetian glass bases, fractal-like goblets as environment, and crystal clear costuming meant to replicate luxurious virtual character customization. We had the opportunity to speak with Hoseok on his outre blend of historical technique with virtual reality inspiration:

Can you share a bit about your background and journey in working with glass?

I’m originally from South Korea, and I’ve been working on glass for about 10 years now. I discovered glass during my undergrad in Korea around 2012. After that, I had opportunities to explore the global glass scene, particularly in the United States. I was drawn to the larger glass art world and market here, leading me to pursue grad school in the U.S. I attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale, completing my master’s in 2021. From there, I worked in Toledo, Ohio for the Toledo Museum of Art and I also taught at Bowling Green State university as an adjunct professor. Now I’m in Kansas City as a studio lead at the Belger Arts Center, where I work full-time as a glassblower and teach classes.

You participated in a glass competition in Japan when you were a student. Can you tell us more about that experience?

Yes, it was the Niijima International Glass Festival on Niijima Island in Japan. It was a workshop, competition, and festival combined. Niijima Island creates this special stone called Cogaseki. And they melt that stone and create their own unique glass, which is very beautiful. It’s a bright olive green colored glass. I ended up taking a workshop and also took part in the competition. The winner of the competition had the opportunity to go to Pilchuck Glass School on scholarship and I ended up winning. That was the big turning point for me. It’s what convinced me to go to grad school outside of Korea and start working internationally.

You’re from Korea, studied in Korea and Illinois, worked in Kansas City, and took an international workshop in Japan. Do you find that there are differences in the output of glass artists from all these different countries?

Each country has its own glass culture and style. Korea’s glass community is mostly focused on crafts and designs. There are many kiln workers and colder workers. I think Japan has a very long history and has great craftsmanship with their own style. They are also mainly focused on craft and they have a great glassblowing and flame working community. I have seen that they make beautiful patterns with cane techniques. The U.S. has the biggest glass market and more of a focus on sculptural work and conceptual art.

You’ve mentioned Jiyong Lee as a vital influence and mentor for you. Are there any glass artists you admire, both from the U.S. and Japan?

There are many. Jiyong Lee was a role model for me and actually the professor who led the glass department at my school. Another one that I really admire is a French Canadian glass artist named Mathieu Grodet. He’s amazing talented artist and very skilled glassblower who makes work with traditional designs, enameling, and also creates fantastic images and letters with murrini technique. There’s also Michael Schunke, Dante Marioni, James Mongrain, and Davide Fuin who are phenomenal traditional goblet makers. All of them inspire me a lot and have had a big impact on the American glass art movement.

Do you draw inspiration from other fields in your glass art?

Absolutely. Working at a company with a large ceramic studio, I find inspiration from watching ceramic artists, especially those who create figurative pieces and installations. While my focus is on glass, I’m also inspired by the other metal artists and sculptors as well.

Your work tends to lean towards glass art, which often emphasizes functionality. How do you balance the artistic aspect with the craftsmanship and functionality?

When I started to learn glassblowing in Korea, some of my professors were worried because they thought I’d just end up making functional pieces like vessels and cups. I guess they probably wanted me to be more creative as a glass artist. After blowing glass for eight years, I can understand their concerns. Glassblowing is a special technique that was designed to create functional forms with great craftsmanship and every process was developed based on production. I aim to use this process, craftsmanship, and functional designs to create something innovative and joyful things with my own artistic aspect as a contemporary artist.

Your recent BEAST series incorporates motifs from toys and video games, reflecting broader themes like consumerism. Is the theme of youth and formative experiences intentional in your work, and do you plan to explore other themes in future projects?

I’m definitely exploring my childhood in my work. My childhood was just full of so many toys since my parents both worked a lot and I didn’t have anyone to spend time with. So my parents would buy me toys and video games so I could play with them at home alone. Even now as an adult, those are still a big hobby for me. I still collect toys and I’m a huge fan of Marvel, comics in general, sci fi movies, fantasy movies, etc. In my work, toys represent myself and young generations as well and I use toys to create the society and speak of the culture that I grew up in.

The culture and society that I grew up in felt like consumerism and materialism just kept getting bigger and bigger. I am always interested in the millennial/Gen Z generation specifically how their cultures are like in current society. I like to speak of pop culture but I definitely want to try something new that is not a traditional theme in future.

What inspired you to create your Overflow piece with plastic bags a few years ago, and how did you approach making it?

It’s a funny story because I actually got that idea from Walmart. So I was in the United States living as a foreigner from South Korea. It’s just such a different life here. And the US is one of the most capitalist countries in the world and it’s always just about money living here. So when I was a student in grad school, obviously you try to go to the cheapest places around. Walmart really interested me because when you check out items at Walmart, sometimes they just put one item in one bag. One small item per bag. Take it out, another item in one bag and repeat. Sometimes even one item for two bags! And you bring all these bags back home and all of a sudden your floor is just full of plastic bags. So after these grocery trips, I would just look down at my house floor and it was literally like a pool, a pool of plastic bags. And at the same time, I was feeling like I’d be stuck in this poor life to live in the USA as an artist. So it was a funny and little emotional backstory behind that piece.

Could you give a preview on the future collection or work that you’re currently working on or thinking about?

I’ve been continuing working on more installations for another BEAST series. I have many new figures that I’ve been creating. Also, you might have noticed that I mainly work with clear glass. So, I’m starting to experiment on working with colored glass. I’m currently inspired by heroes from American comics and in the process of designing those with Venetian traditional stemware. For example, I want to try to make Iron Man. It could be a great practice to explore colors and new designs.

Why make the choice now to transition into working with color? What are you trying to express with colored glass that you can’t with clear glass?

I use clear glass for my own specific reasons. In my work, clear glass also carries symbolism of luxury and the originality of glass. I also believe that clear glass can give much more space to the audience and allow them to imagine whatever they want through my work. It’s like white canvas.

I think I want to try to use color because I want to create already existing characters and color can be a good way to describe the identity. Taking the iron man as an example, the symbolic color of him is red and gold. I can be a little limited shape wise because I only use stemware to create the form so the color can balance out and cover the part where it can’t be expressed enough with shapes. That’s my thought so far…