Alice Oh was born in South Korea in 1967. She grew up in a very creative environment; her father is an artist and her mother is a fashion designer. Her father’s studio was in the house and Alice remembers that “there were no boundaries between studio and house.” She worked with “his best brushes” and had the best quality paints and papers. She doesn’t remember being given toys – she and her sibling made their own toys. She moved around a lot while growing up, and so was exposed to different cultures and different languages. The only thing that remained consistent was her art. Before graduating from high school, she lived in Korea, Italy, Japan and the US, and she is fluent in the languages of these four countries. Living in New York City as an adolescent and throughout college, she interacted with wonderful female artists who were inspirational to her. She also learned that someone could be a great artist and a great mother at the same time.
Alice went to the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City where she studied photography and illustration for three years. At the end of her junior year, she realized that what she really wanted was to be a painter. SVA did not have studios for seniors to paint in (she points out that Moore has studio space for juniors and seniors) so she applied to the Temple/Rome program through the Tyler School of Art. This trip served as a tremendous inspiration and also reinforced that she was heading in the right direction. When she returned, she wanted nothing more than to make good paintings, so she transferred to Tyler where she majored in painting and minored in printmaking. At Tyler’s Penrose Gallery, she had her first art exhibition, with pieces ranging from landscapes, to abstract, to experimental art.
She went to Yale University for an MFA because she was looking for an “extremely intense experience.” She came out of that experience understanding that “art is not something you do because you feel like doing it; art is your life. Art Equals Your Life.”
When Alice was in graduate school, she became interested in bringing pieces of nature into her studio – water waves, leaves. At the end of her first year, she became very sick. While she was in the hospital, the doctor showed her a slide of her blood and she was very excited to see the cells and the virus, the colors. She knew at that time that this was what she was looking for. People confuse her work with abstract but she does not consider it so – “it is real.” Her work is about looking at the microscopic view of something and enlarging it in to the macro. Ultimately, she had friends at different hospitals who gave her slides with different diseases that she has been collecting ever since. She describes her work process as “collective” – she reads a lot, she draws all the time (particularly from nature), and looks at other artists’ work that inspires her, watches people how they move, observes nature.
Alice’s first job after graduate school was as a Philadelphia public school art teacher. A friend who was teaching at Moore invited her to attend a faculty exhibition at the college in 1997. She was given her first class to teach at that time – basic drawing for freshmen. Three years ago, she was asked to be a faculty chair and she served as interim chair for two years. She now interacts mostly with the seniors in Senior Studio. She finds it very rewarding to watch the students grow.
When she started to teach at Moore, Alice gave a lot of thought to the fact that it is an all women’s college. Now she thinks it is a “very special place.” She sees students here as very focused, which she attributes partially to being at an all women’s college. They are able to voice their needs and be heard. She knows of non-traditional aged students who attend Moore and feel very at home and very supported.
Alice does not think you can teach someone to be an artist. She says you teach someone how to be inspired, how to be open minded, how to think outside the box, and how to be extremely motivated. Motivation and inspiration are the two most important things from her own education that she wants to pass on to her students. She thinks that Moore provides something very different from just teaching someone how to be an artist; Moore teaches you “how to be a human.” Moore provides the community in which students learn how to interact with one another and develop the personal skills that she sees as fundamental to success.
Alice thinks that Moore’s size offers a great advantage to students. Faculty really pay attention to the growth of students and can interact with them closely. Alice says she knows all of her students and recognizes them when she sees them years after they graduate. “It’s good to have an environment where people are paying attention to what you’re doing when you’re 18, 19, 20 years old.”
Regarding teaching others to be leaders, she thinks that leadership is about going the extra mile. You need to be around peers who are leaders. Moore allows students the opportunity to learn about things like this in a safe environment before going out in the real world.
She hopes that her legacy at Moore is that she is remembered as a person who was a “dedicated, kind, available faculty member, one who was here for many years and worked very hard. That would be good enough for me.”
Alice received a Pew Fellowship in 2000 and also a Leeway Foundation grant the same year. The grants provided her with the financial stability to take an extra step in her art – it helped to buy her time to do what she really wanted to do and time to do more research. Everything that goes into her art takes an enormous amount of time. She feels that this kind of advantage (getting the grants) is necessary to take your work up to the next level. She also appreciated the encouragement from an external source.