Conversations with an Artist: RatxChicks Michelle Im
Humor drives a lot of the ideas Michelle Im of RatxChicks has for her ceramic forms and especially, their decoration. A Korean-American artist, she explores ideological tensions she experienced growing up in South Korea and America. She often pairs motifs that are deliberately out of sync to capture a sense of approachable absurdity. Named one of Ceramic Monthly's 2022 Emerging Artists, we were lucky to meet Michelle when she and our artist Austyn Taylor were at Archie Brae together and we are so excited to introduce her to you!
Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
My first connection to art was through nature. I watched my father paint with watercolors from nature books and going on hikes growing up. He taught me to observe and appreciate nature and that’s had a lasting impact on me.
What themes do you pursue in your art?
In my surface decorations, I’m interested in placing pattern elements that normally don’t go together creating harmony out of disorder and chaos. In many ways I think this is analogous to how new cultures form by mixing and layering.
Using humor in my art allows me to process the struggle and pain that often comes along with migration or adopting a new cultural identity.
Tell us about what influences the direction for your craft.
Researching ceramic history has always been a source of inspiration. I use a Maiolica painting technique in my work which responds to the earthenware traditions of Italian Maiolica and Dutch Delftware that arose out of the global demand for Chinese blue and white porcelain. I’m interested in how ideas travel over time and geography. My work recontextualizes past traditions questioning my place in contemporary society.
How has your work developed over time?
Influenced by the importance placed on porcelain works in Korean ceramics culture, I was drawn to the material in the beginning. I started ceramics working on the wheel and firing porcelain to high temperatures. Eventually, as I developed my ideas for surface decoration, I turned to handbuilding methods and now I strictly work with earthenware clay. Earthenware clay is typically looked upon as ‘kindergarten’ grade but when it is dressed and manipulated, it has the power and elegance of any porcelain works.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
Besides my main kiln which came to me with the name Floyd, I have a baby kiln that will fit just 1 butter dish which comes in handy when I need to test glazes. I named it Brain like the character from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Do you collect anything?
I collect ceramics, mostly mugs! I enjoy the different conversations I have with each maker when I have my morning coffee ritual.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
I’m a huge fan of the Netflix series, Beef that recently came out. To see a full Asian-American cast was inspiring and it’s set in one of my favorite places, LA. There’s also a lot of pottery references in the show!
What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
Move to LA?
What role does music play for you while you work?
Different genres of music compliment different parts of the ceramics process for me. I turn to techno when I’m in the building stage. Muscling clay works well when I’m listening to repetitive minimalist techno. And then when I’m in the decoration stage, I typically listen to hip hop.
Whether it's pigeons paired with toothbrushes or poodles and bananas, artist Michelle Im's ceramics seek refuge in humor and relishes in the absurdities of everyday life. Check out the ceramics by RatxChicks here.