Yong Soon Min was only seven when she came face to face with her future in a grocery store.
It was the Northern Bathroom Tissue girl — staring back at her from a package of toilet paper. The image’s cherubic face with clear-blue eyes and curly blonde hair was to be the inspiration that would send Min into a career in art.
Today, Min, new chair of the Department of Studio Art, uses her own brand of artistry in the form of provocative and evocative imagery that reflects her Asian and Korean-American background, to inspire future artists and art enthusiasts.
A long journey from the youthful days when she drew the girl on the package as an art assignment from her elementary school teacher.
“I did that pencil drawing and ever since that moment I’ve declared myself an artist.”
Min, who serves as associate professor of studio art in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, is an internationally recognized sculptor. Most recently she has found herself in the role of inspiring UCI students, particularly Asian and Asian-American students.
Finding themselves freed up from the pressures Asian-American and immigrant families put onto their children to pursue math, science and engineering careers, more Asian students are pursuing the creative arts, Min says. Their numbers have doubled since she began at UCI in 1993.
“Asian students the last decade have felt they could see themselves as artists. More students are discovering art is what they really want to do. For a lot of students with an immigrant background, the pressure to choose fields that were more financially rewarding was immense,” she said.
In her own career, Min crafts art that tries to inspire introspection among the viewers. Her latest example, unveiled in September, is a 27-foot wide, 9-foot high curved wall space fronting the auditorium lobby of the Asian Society headquarters in New York City.
More than 150 LP’s, made of a translucent and transparent vinyl, decorate a mirror spanning the wall. The records double as clocks, with barely perceptible hands, and are labeled with digitally recreated album covers copied from hundreds of original records collected from treasure hunts across Asia.
“Overall I’m fascinated by history. Art is not just about beauty. Art addresses a whole range of issues. Politics and art can mix. Art can get you to think about things more deeply.
“That is an ongoing concern of artists. Contemporary art is to get people to think and rethink preconceived notions,” she said.
“She does a wonderful job of promoting Asian art and Korean- American art. I couldn’t think of another person who has been so group-minded,” said Soo Young Chin, executive director of the Korean- American Museum in Los Angeles. “Other people promote their own work. Professor Min has a much broader mission.”
After getting her bachelor’s and master’s of fine art at UC Berkeley, Min landed a spot with the Whitney Museum Independent Study program in New York City before going to a teaching position in Ohio.
She returned to California in 1993, accepting a position as assistant professor in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts.
“Yong Soon Min’s students are fortunate,” noted arts school Dean Jill Beck. “She is both a successful practicing artist whose work can be viewed widely, and a thoughtful and reflective person. Her perspectives on her field are drawn from rich life experiences, and from her connections with projects, people and organizations across the nation and across national boundaries.”
Teaching is a role she relishes, but she remains an artist, a working artist, at heart.
“Like all artists, our last work is always our best. The great piece we are going to do is always the next one.”