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Meet Rich Nam

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rich Nam.

Rich, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My first creative experience came at age four, at a daycare art class where I learned to draw a triangle. It was an early introduction into perspective drawing and it instilled in me an appreciation for visual imagination – the ability to see, change, add, remove and manipulate reality. To be in an environment where I can share that imagined reality with others is a great motivator for me.

I am the son of first-generation Korean immigrant tailors. I grew up in Los Angeles, California since 1984 and I was surrounded by textiles, patterns, and drawings. A fascination with watching 2-dimensional plans becoming 3-dimensional objects eventually drew me to Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) where I graduated with honors in 2012. But the road between that childhood art experience and architecture school was paved with racially-fueled bullying, abuse, and violence, an unfortunate consequence of growing up in Los Angeles in the eighties and nineties. Eventually, I let my love of hip hop and electronic music guide me into the urban landscapes of Los Angeles. Discovering music saved me, allowed me to escape the pull of gangs and plugged me into a community of artists and creators. In my 20s, I began painting with one of the oldest graffiti crews in LA called Pure Madness (PM). From that moment on, drawing, and imagination became a source of connecting with myself, my community, and my physical environment. Reminiscing about painting with my crew back then brings up positive, good memories that, in hindsight, was a healing and constructive time in my life.

After Sci-Arc, I began an apprenticeship with the co-founder of SCIArc, Michael Rotondi and eventually became an employee at his studio. From my apprenticeship I rose quickly to the head of the studio as a senior designer and worked there for many years, designing prominent structures for both commercial and institutional buildings. Then in 2015, a traumatic hiking accident left me injured and unable to get out of bed for six months. It was then that I realized I should pursue my own path in Art and Design. I started my own residential architecture firm, building a business from scratch and soon left after designing and building three multi-million dollar projects. I felt called to pursue something more in alignment with my creative side. I wanted fewer constraints, and more freedom to turn on, tune in and drop out if you will. It was then I started “Studio Rich Nam Art”. My current work is an amalgamation of my life experiences – from that first triangle drawing to street art, and the various commercial and residential dwellings I’ve designed throughout my life. Present are themes of architecture, my Korean heritage, fragility, resiliency, light, and lines. We are always striving to make something original with our art, but there’s nothing original in this world. A pearl is a composite of all the things that surround it. That’s my art: it’s my life, my relationship to materials, community and people both past and present – it’s a reflection of everything that has made me who I am.

Has it been a smooth road?
My journey so far has had many obstacles. In some ways, I had felt that I had to start over again in my profession multiple times, which was tough but I have no regrets. In the past, I’ve created so much art away from the spotlight, and it took a lot of courage to step out of the background and put myself and my work out there to share with others. There is intrinsic value in making art because I enjoy it without minding what others say or the expectations they may have. It can be a challenge to be intentional about the things I make, because it may not be in alignment with what sells, is trending or a part of some current discourse. Lastly, it has taken time to find my community of kindred spirits who support the work I do. It really takes a village of patrons, collectives, galleries, friends, colleagues, and supporters to be an artist in Los Angeles. I would be an island without my village.

Art of Living: I recently became a father to a daughter and in the midst of this, momentum has been building with my work. Finding the time to do it all has been super challenging. But I try not to differentiate my work, life, etc. because I believe it can be one seamless life. I often go to a quote by Lawrence Pearsall Jacks: “A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”

I’ve been on this journey of intentionally living and there are many things I had to give up and adopt to have continuity in my life. I would argue that most people are on a quest to experience joy. Everything we do is for this one reason. When I asked myself what would make me joyful, I identified having power over the following three things: Health, Family, and Creating Art. When I identified the barriers that were in my way, of having complete control over my life, I realized I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I was never a daily drinker but a social drinker on the weekends that would lead to days of not being mentally clear and on point. It was a pattern that wasn’t contributing to me being the kind of person that I wanted to be. It especially didn’t work with me being an artist, so I gave it up. I’ve been sober just over one year now, and where I am in my career right now is attributed by my acknowledgment that this was a problem. I am very fortunate that I was able to gain control over this area of my life. I am aligned now and look forward to my future.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
My studio is an interdisciplinary practice that meanders between the threshold of Fine Arts, Architecture and Design. I have done everything from designing buildings, large scale installation art, and smaller sculptures for galleries. To me, they are the same thing. To me, they are all just objects that inhabit our physical world. They interact, engage and activate our world in subtle ways. I’m interested in that, and how even the slightest nuances about things “designed” can subconsciously affect our lives. I really don’t see any difference between Art, Design, and Architecture. I see it as one seamless thing that has been differentiated by people and pedagogical institutions. What sets me apart from others is not that important to me. What is important to me, is that I get to develop my own visual language as a set of tools designed to articulate a unique view or perspective about life, humanity, culture, etc. My creations are personal to me and it is precisely what I hope will resonate with others. An installation from my latest series called, “Little boxes” can be seen upstairs at the Ace Hotel DTLA Rooftop #wiredatace and a spinoff of contemporary dog houses will be available for purchase at Oh Hello Dog in downtown LA, where I will also be exhibiting my next large installation. I also recently exhibited a series of sculptures called, “Vegan Taxidermy” at the Architecture Design Museum in the DTLA #vegantaxidermyshow. Coming soon, I will be releasing a multiprocess print series for a fine art gallery. I am also preparing for a solo show next year. Please stay tuned…

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles is dense and very large. It is a hub for artists of all backgrounds and geographies so there is a wide range of artists that are trying to make it here. However, if you are trying to practice here in LA, it will be tougher than most metropolitan cities. But don’t give up. Find your people and keep making a place for yourself. And if it doesn’t work out, you’ll probably have exercised some muscle to make it just about anywhere else. I will say – strive to be humble, show generosity and be vigilant. Persistence is the key to making it here in LA.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

John Nam – Greycard Photography,

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