Artist Ju Oshiro presents a striking collection of portraits and figurative oil paintings. See more of her portfolio by visiting her website.
I have been on a journey from humble beginnings to discovering art and the life I was meant to lead. I was born in South Korea in a mountain town just south of the Demilitarized Zone, the child of a well-known fashion designer father and a traditional Asian mother who were in an arranged marriage.
After the Japanese occupation and during the postwar 1960’s, Korea was severely damaged. Life was challenging to begin with, but when my father left our family, we struggled to get out of poverty. There was no place for art in the school or popular culture. As a student, I craved artistic expression and would often be distracted from my studies and doodle on my notebook as I daydreamed. My focus was to study in school and follow my mother’s strict plans to become a nurse and one day marry a doctor.
One day, I watched my oldest brother’s friend apply watercolors to a large blank paper that covered the wall. I was totally mesmerized during the magical few days as his painting was transformed into a powerful portrait of a strong Korean woman. She was wearing a yellow and purple traditional dress with a mysterious smile much like Mona Lisa. That image left an indelible impression on me. My world changed that weekend.
I left home in my late teens and eventually ended up in America. Once I landed in this great country of abundance and opportunity, I needed a job. I took all my money and enrolled in beauty school to become a hairstylist. In nine short months, I was able to establish a career that allowed me to make a living and be creative.
As I earned my living by professionally working on hair and makeup, I learned to look at the true essence of women and elevate their beauty by making them feel good about their outward appearance. I made good money and built my clientele over 25 years, but I still felt a deep artistic calling in my soul. I often felt a sense of emptiness and a lack of fulfillment and purpose. Something important was missing, and I needed a creative outlet. Although I didn’t realize it then, I was going through a deep depression.
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After my daughter was grown, my husband’s career required that we live internationally. As I experienced life in European cities, I found a way to put down roots by visiting the local art museums. I‘ll never forget the feeling of visiting the Rembrandt museum in the Netherlands. The Dutch master’s work is so lifelike that each painting literally opens up and breathes. Instead of resting as static images, his canvases pulse with the subtle energy of a living thing.
Back in the United States, at 50 years old, I started art classes at Scottsdale Artist School. I took workshops with famous living artists such as David Leffel, Sherry McGraw and Jeremy Lipking. Soon after, I moved to San Diego to study with Jeff Watt at Watts Atelier where I learned human anatomy, craftsmanship and painting fundamentals.
I continued my studies at the Russian Academy of Art in Florence, Italy where I learned to appreciate modern Russian art and the sumptuous canvases of the painters Nicolas Fechin, Issac Levitan and IIla Repin. Their paintings are completely loose, yet deliberate and faithful, and not at all flashy.
Around this time, I experienced a renewal in my relationship with God and understood His plans. This helped me find my purpose and gain confidence in this new life. My husband and I travel as part of his missionary work, and I have been so inspired by people in countries around the world living their faith. This has led me to create portraits and figurative paintings that honor all of God’s creation.
Each painting I create is a source of healing for me. As I lean into my artistic passion, I have moved past the difficulties I experienced in Korea. With every brushstroke, I now bless my mother for bringing me into this life, and my father for inspiring me to be the artist that I am today. There is no place I would rather be than with a brush in my hand. I know I am here to make a difference with this gift and right now, there is no time to waste.
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