Interview with Leegan Koo

Interview with Leegan Koo

Leegan Koo is a South Korea born artist who has become known for dark and surreal paintings that feature a sense of humor. Leegan was nice enough to do an interview with us over the holiday. If you would like to read my thoughts on Koo’s works you can see our spotlight article from October titled ‘Surrealist Nightmares, a look at Leegan Koo.’

Nice to meet you Leegan, thanks for doing this interview. The characters in your paintings, do they represent you or are they a fiction protagonist?

They are fictional protagonists. Even though it’s probably impossible to separate my experiences and my paintings, I try my best not to put too much of “me” in my paintings. My goal is to create an atmosphere that can inspire different stories in the mind of each person viewing the painting.


In most of your recent works, we see the characters wearing the jack in the box head, and quite often we see the characters wearing a SpongeBob mask, why is that? Does SpongeBob hold a special place in your mind from your childhood?

I have always loved SpongeBob, as many people do, I’m sure. But the reason I first chose it as a subject matter was the stark contrast its happy face creates with the rather grotesque or dark atmosphere of my paintings, and the jarring feeling evoked by that contrast. 

You have said before how inspired you are by hip hop culture.  What kind of music groups or artists has inspired you the most over the years? 

I’ve been inspired greatly by the works of the old school graffiti writers from the 90s. 


Obviously, cartoons and TV have played a big role in your paintings before from shows like SpongeBob and Rick and Morty. Are there any movies that have influenced or inspired you or inspired a specific painting?

I love Christopher Nolan movies that delve into the concept of reality. I also like American cartoons and Japanese animated films. I can’t think of a specific movie that directly influenced a specific painting. I think it’s more like the movies and cartoons leave me with particles of ideas and images that become mixed and transformed later to serve my purpose in the paintings, and this process happens subconsciously.

What does your process for creating look like, could you tell us how the concept is first conceived and how you translate your ideas to canvas? Also while you are painting how do you maintain focus, do you listen to music or watch films while you work?

For me, inspirations do not come from a single event or a source but are built up in layers of different experiences through time. Once an idea takes root in my head, I play with it for a long time. If it does not get boring in the end, I research for reference pictures or take photos to create an image that best conveys my idea. While I paint, I mostly listen to music or keep the TV on. I don’t really follow what’s happening on the TV, but I need some kind of noise in the background to stay focused.

Often your works appear like fever dreams and nightmares. Is there a story behind these works, are they all connected, or does each piece carry its own story? Isolation seems to be a recurring theme thought your paintings, why is that?

Since I focus more on creating a certain atmosphere than on telling a specific narrative, I translate the images in my head on canvas without trying to make a sense of it or create a story out of it. Maybe that’s the reason my works appear like fever dreams or something of that sort, since most dreams do not have a coherent theme or follow a logical sequence, and oftentimes you wake up with strong feelings without exactly remembering everything that’s happened in your dream. I think I can say that my goal is to capture that feeling that lingers long after you’ve all forgotten about the dream. Similarly, I don’t intend to express isolation in my art. I guess it has something to do with the fact that I’ve always been an introvert who does not mix with people a lot. At any rate, while my characters may seem isolated from “the world,” they still can be content in their own world. 


What is your favorite thing about being an artist and what are some of your goals you would like to achieve with your art?

I like that I can entertain people with my imagination. And of course, I’ve always loved drawing and painting, so it’s great to be able to make a living by doing what I love. 

My ultimate goal is to keep evolving as an artist and upgrading my skills.


You can follow Leegon Koo on their Instagram here. 

Follow Leegon Koo on Instagram here.

Read more artist interviews here.