art:. Tayen Kim, Sketching Civilians Curbside at Civil Coffee, Los Angeles


a civil life

There’s a place where benches sit. In that place, I met a woman, dressed in monochrome, cheeks flushed peach, full of stories. The benches are in Highland Park, in front of a break in a historic piece of pavement. There Tayen Kim and I spoke about how she travels here, for now, for Civil Coffee’s Saturday pop-up, drawing others for self.

c.:  How did you start coming to Civil?

Tayen Kim: I met Alex and Alex at an Instameet, it was an early one, and one of only four that I’ve been too. It was hosted by Patrick Janelle, a small meetup and really fun. I was chatting with Alex – he’s an artist – and a former art school attendee so we felt s kindred and we’ve been in touch ever since. I heard about what they were doing and I wanted to support.

I’m always looking for coffee shops where I can do my work and not feel self-loathsome for being there for hours. I feel terrible. I understand about business and a business wants good turn around. We’re in this post-modern era, we want our coffee and want it to go, that’s the American lifestyle. It’s not where impressionism and cubism came from. But, we’re in a recession era America which is conducive to sitting and making art.So, Alex said I should come and make art here. I said, ‘really you’d let us do that.’

c.: And, here you are, on this bench.

t.k.: There’s a bench for us I like to think. So, now we can sketch.

c.: When you’re in a space what captures you?

t.k.: Honestly, it’s not as philosophical and romantic as it may seem.  Although I’m more on that end of the spectrum. My dad is a Zen master and I work in things that deal with theology, so it’s very much that I like looking at people and drawing them. I say, I’m the creepy lady drawing you.

c.: So are you pulled by anything?

t.k.: There’s an interesting shape that a human body forms. Billions of shapes in clothing and its fun for an artist to be in an environment where there’s a constant change of forms.

c.: Well described, I’ve never looked at it like that as far as the shape component but, it is so very true. How did the coffee shop become a space of creation for you?

t.k.: I have a close tie with coffee. It’s been a major part of my life before I even drank it. I didn’t grow up in Korea but spent a lot of those years there. It’s a specific kind of a culture. The thought of sitting in a café -doing something other than drinking or eating it’s always been part of my life and it feels like home to me.

c.: How would you say Korea shaped you and or America has influenced you?

t.k.: I don’t know that America has influenced me; I think that’s still shaping itself.

But definitely Korean coffee culture has influenced me. My mom would take me around with her while getting coffee with friends. I always thought of it – going to a café getting coffee with friends – as elegant things that beautiful women do .

Tayen makes a gesture. Her hands move in a proper sort of way, demonstratively.

t.k.: So, its Ingrained in me – sitting in a café doing something with people you know that doesn’t involve eating and drinking, it’s a sophisticated thing. And when I’m feeling really tired and missing home because I travel quite a bit, I just have to find a coffee shop, I sit, I draw people and its good. And you know, the aromas are doing what they do, the sun is there and the laws of physics and everything is alright

c.: I know that feeling. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the coffee shop can give me that, and not mistrust my instinct. Do you have a coffee ritual?

t.k.: It changes all the time. There was a time when I got up and made my coffee on my siphon.  It’s since broken siphon, like six years ag. She laughs.  So yea. I don’t know that I have one, for now it’s just going to a local shop.

c.: Do you have a main medium that you like to work in?

t.k.: I do art full time. I don’t really have a main medium. For now, my favorite is graphite and water color. Watercolor has always been one of my favorite mediums, I was trained in it at eight and it stuck with me. When I’m drawing people that’s just for me. Relationships are a favorite in my life; I love observing humans and psychology, their fascinating things.


c.: So fascinating! Both are intertwined. It’s hard to see one without the use of another. Seeing that art and coffee are part of your life, how do they play together?

t.k.: In history there has been a symbiotic relationship between the local artist and a local coffee shop. I would love to see it happen more.  As with anything that has or is nuanced in aesthetics, coffee adds to a persons experience of the world.

I think it’s the same with tea, wine cheese, kimchi, bread, all thee things that are nuanced.  So much like these things, oh my gosh, having an amazing glass of wine is like I don’t know how to describe it, I always joke about sex in the mouth; I love eating. Coffee is the same way, it’s nuanced, it awakens you – your soul, yourself.

c.: Yes! Yes! The nuances blow my mind.

t.k.: Culture is made up of art. It’s like one of Jerry Seinfeld’s well known comments. Do you know that one? Coffee isn’t just a food, it’s an action, an event, ‘you do coffee.’ You don’t just drink coffee. In that respect, it’s a unique thing, not just a substance, coffee is culture.

c.: You’re speaking my language. You come here every Saturday, for now for all the things we’ve spoken about. What would you say to fellow artist who are looking to begin?

t.y.: Just do it, go outside and draw something just do it, the crap has to come out so the good stuff can come. Out. Draw something every day all, all day.

For more of Ms. Kim’s work visit here.