wordmark sig coat instagram flickr twitter facebook arrow-zoom-in arrow-up arrow-down arrow-right arrow-left
Cart (0)

Justin Ryan Kim Posted on 9 Apr 11:52 | Creative Pioneers

This is Justin Ryan Kim – an Art Director from New York City, and a humble member of our Mr. Gray community. We've been collaborating on content with this 'all around creative' over the past few months and thought it was time to switch the roles around and dig into his own story to share with you. We tap into what drives him to push forward, how he's working on finding and building his community, and what it means to be a Creative Pioneer in NYC.

Photography by: Aleaf Apdunloh

Interview by: Courtney Chew

Words by: Justin Ryan Kim




I was born in San Diego, CA, into a pretty poor family, we grew up on food stamps in the rough parts of town. Looking back, it wasn’t the easiest life, but it was the only one I knew. However, growing up in poverty has taught me a lot about who I am, or rather has defined who I am today. It taught me to fight for the things that I want in life, leaving me a little rough around the edges. Growing up where I did, also taught me to do whatever I could to stay out of the streets, despite my fair share of setbacks, it was my curiosity in the arts that truly kept me out of all the trouble I could have gotten into. With my parents out trying to keep a roof over our families heads, I learned to do things on my own, whether it was dressing, cooking, school projects, etc. It taught me how to be self-sufficient, which was huge when it came to applying it to my work. The projects motivated me to always move forward. It pushed me through school; it kept me off the streets, it got me through college and all my moves across the world, which led me to where I am today, working as an Art Director in New York City. 







On being…

Honestly, it’s hard to call myself anything, I never really fully identified myself as anything more than me, Justin Ryan Kim. I’ve learned in my time here in the city that titles are given not said. It wasn’t until a few years that I started being comfortable with people calling me an artist. Creativity has always been a medium I used as an escape; it was my secret place. It always amazed me that I could have a thought and turn into something tangible, whether it was food, a photograph, a story, or something functional like furniture or clothing. 


On the largest impact…

The largest impact I want to leave on those around me is that nothing is impossible. With the right intentions and motivation, anything can be done; creativity should be limitless. However, the challenge is not letting the world tell you any differently. Often as a creative, I’m hit with setbacks, where my work looks or feels or sounds too similar to something else. In those moments, I’ll put my work aside and live life. I think the hardest thing to do is to take an idea and truly make it yours. It’s incredible to see someones work and be able to see them in their work. I guess this is something I strive for when I approach my work. I want people to see me in my work. 


On community…

As human beings, we are always seeking community. This is something that has been difficult for me personally. Being so transient my whole life, it’s always been hard to build and find community. Whether it was lack of interest in other people or other people’s lack of interest in me. This was another thing that I valued once moving to New York City. And even now in my seven years living in the city, I still find community to be the hardest thing to find. But once found, it’s your community that will define who you are, both inside and out. It’s our community we go to for consolation, for encouragement, for support, for introspection. 


I’ve found that in the right community, regardless of how long you are a part of it, that they become your family, the people you live for, the people that keep you going and motivated to do the biggest things. 







On being a creative pioneer…

Being a creative pioneer can mean so many things. I think to me, being a creative pioneer is by redefining the defined. People like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs (typical icons, I know) have been known to redefine technology and the standard of life. People I look up to are furthest from an artist. Honestly, the person I look up to the most is my Pops; he came to the US with nothing to his name. He sacrificed his dreams of being an artist and creative to support his family. Although it was rough at times, it’s not something that became clear to me until I got older. It’s something that has inspired me to give back to those who aren’t as fortunate to be where I am today, financially sufficient as a creative. Another realization I have had in my coming years was that information and skills were meant to be shared and passed on. I try my best to do what I can to share my resources and what I have to my community. 







All-in-all, I feel like being creative is less about your work, but who you are. Learning and exploring yourself before you look beyond to create, has always been a thought I repeatedly come back to.