We’re often told, “Go for gold” and one internationally renowned South Korean artist, Kim Il Tae, took that quite literally and has started his own niche by painting with gold. This is not gold foil we speak of, but pure 24K gold. So when he flew in for his exhibition at the Shangri-La Hotel Kuala Lumpur, we spoke to him and also found out, as shown by his paintings, that all that glitter really is gold.

What inspired you to get into art in the beginning?

“My mother was an art teacher, so since the age of five, I started to draw. Whenever my mum tutored her students, I would sit in and take part.”

The golden question! Why gold?

“Gold is something that is very pure. It is everlasting, and would never change its colour.”

What is your optimal mixture for painting?

“I found that when I use chemical oil, it would change the colour of the gold, so I have developed six to seven types of natural oil that can be mixed with the gold. All this took seven years to perfect.”


Speaking of seven years, what drove you on without ever giving up?

“Let me tell you the whole story. Back in Korea, being an artist wasn’t considered a stable job, so I went for an agricultural degree. Shortly after, I did some business in property. I started earning money, but I didn’t lose the feeling of wanting to create art. With all the money I had at the age of 33, I went to the US – along with my mother and my wife who migrated with me – and studied oil painting at an art school in San Francisco.

“A couple of years later I went back to Korea and tried to sell my oil paintings, but it didn’t do well. I was at a crossroads, deciding whether I should continue to pursue art or stick to being a businessman. Again, I still couldn’t give up the idea of creating art. And so my mother suggested that I should paint with gold, and if it didn’t work out I should just give up entirely.”

So how did you acquire the gold?

“I was the owner of two buildings. I sold one off to buy gold, and my wife called me crazy. I got divorced and went to work straight after that – very painful times!"

What is one theme that you like to make art around?

“I like to create artworks about love, happiness, respect and the love of neighbours. I want to focus more on the audience, I want them feel love and happiness when they look at my art.”


Who are some of your favourite art collectors?

“Although my works have been collected by Madonna, Psy, Barack Obama, Ivana Trump and Bill Gates, I’d have to say the highlight would be Prince Michael of Kent.”

What is the best thing someone’s ever said about your art?

“That even though it’s just one colour, the dimensions and the details are amazing. And that no one can do what I do.”

Do you have a favourite piece?

“I would say that my favourites revolve around the rose flower.”

What’s next for you?

“In terms of projects, while I would like the Oriental touch to remain in my art, and I would like to show people more of love, and to focus more on mother’s love and its pureness. At my age, I understand the love between male and female but I feel that there is nothing that can compare to a mother’s love. 

“Also, considering that my artworks for canvas are doing quite well, I think I would like to try my hand at pottery. Gold pottery!”

Photos by: Shaffiq Farhan
Artworks: Courtesy of Aureo Gallery