We begin at the end, as Tavi Kim (C ’23) excitedly announces, “I’m going to go paint.” His fading purple hair recedes into the distance, as he daydreams about returning to his passion and bops along to what I can only imagine is a carefully curated playlist blasting through his corded earbuds. As most of us retreat to our dorm rooms to begrudgingly catch up on recorded lectures, Tavi makes his way to his studio and living space to do what he loves: Make art. 

Since he is taking this semester off, Tavi’s schedule consists largely of time spent being creative—on his own terms, that is. In a normal semester, his studies would guide his artistic passions. As a design major, Tavi looks forward to cultivating those interests, exploring the wide variety of courses offered through the department, and growing into himself as an artist on an academic level. For now, Tavi skates, collaborates with other artists, and spends time decorating his studio in inspirational material and artwork. Tavi says that the uncertainty of each day is stressful, but his love for self expression, as all–consuming as it is, makes it all worth it. 

Photo courtesy of Tavi Kim.

Growing up in the Philadelphia area, Tavi considers himself a part of the city’s larger artistic community, often working with friends from other local universities like Temple or the University of the Arts. Tavi is certain that his love for collaboration will only widen the bounds of his artistic circle, expanding the community he perceives as a lively social outlet and invaluable source for inspiration. He beams with pride on behalf of these friends, claiming they all create “stellar art” and that they motivate him in all sorts of ways. The variety in these artists' backgrounds and educational journeys provides Tavi with a robust and multifaceted understanding of design, helping him to become much more than a “Penn student–artist."  

Though he adores the robust artistic community outside the bounds of campus, Tavi also engages with collectives specific to Penn. He is part of Penn Art and Wellness and Penn Fashion Collective, two clubs in which he has found many creative companions. While the art community at Penn is small, according to Tavi, the combination of such clubs and like–minded peers in his art classes has helped him solidify a home base.

If it wasn't already clear, Tavi's relationship with other artists is of utmost importance to him. Each moment spent with an artistic friend is a moment of learning for Tavi, whether they're showing him how to do value drawings or just picking his brain about style and creativity. In fact, in the near future, Tavi hopes to turn these companions into colleagues by establishing a joint, physical gallery space full of all their work. Relaxing into his seat, Tavi admits to the uncertainty shrouding his next steps. 

"I don't know what the future holds in store for me," he says, shrugging his shoulders. He pauses for a moment before he adds, "Stay tuned for more art, I guess."

While his favorite mediums currently include painting and digital design, Tavi describes himself as “young, and curious, and still figuring out what part of art [he] likes.” He hopes to get into ceramics in the future and continue soaking up knowledge from his artistic peers, which may lead him in a new, unexpected direction. 

Tavi's artistic journey also includes an exploration of mediums he doesn't particularly enjoy—like charcoal. Despite not being the biggest fan of the drawing tool, which Tavi says he has used quite a bit in the classroom, he sees the value of moving beyond his comfort zone. “I’m proud of myself for doing it because it definitely improved other areas of my art," he says. 

Tarot Cards by Tavi Kim.

In terms of theme, Tavi oscillates between creating art with purely aesthetic value and art that holds interpretative meaning. For instance, Tavi enjoys riffing on tarot cards, a subject heavy with intuitive and abstract meaning. As he explores the intersection between physical and digital art forms, Tavi hopes to better communicate his emotions through his art. Poetically, he hopes his viewers “sympathize, treat it more like a mirror, and see themselves in [his] art too.” 

Photo courtesy of Tavi Kim.

Approaching life through an artistic lens, Tavi searches for inspiration constantly, spending each day printing out pictures and adding to the de facto mood board on his wall. He pays particular attention to memories from his past that he can’t quite place, like photos of children’s books from his mom that ring a bell somewhere deep down in his psyche. Likewise, in a way that brings the past to life, one of Tavi’s favorite projects is his painting of a floppy disk, which he describes as both a dated yet familiar and iconic piece of technology. 

When asked to give advice to budding artists, Tavi says, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Everybody goes at their own pace, and it's a marathon—not a sprint.” To Tavi, art is nothing more than expression, and that anyone can do it—if they put in the necessary work. And as our interview ends, he wanders off back to his studio to do just that.