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Sojin Oh on Creating Otherworldly Nail Art for the Likes of Björk and Hunter Schafer

Sojin Oh on Creating Otherworldly Nail Art for the Likes of Björk and Hunter Schafer
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Sojin OhExtremities are a masterful interpreter. For the Los Angeles–based nail artist, inspiration comes from bacteria strains, sea creatures, and René Redzepi’s fungi haul. Lil Nas X recently glimmered in Oh’s Beaded chrome nails; Hunter SchaferThe Met Gala was attended by a crystal set. “The sublime beauty of the natural world influences me to be adventurous,”The scuba-certified Korean native says so. But there’s a portentous undercurrent in these fire-and-ice nails, shaded by the realities of living in a state routinely ablaze. Oh cites lava as a muse because it’s “seen as destructive and violent, but it is also creating and generating new life.” Even as Oh dreams of designing nails for a sci-fi film someday, she hopes her work—embellished with water droplets or gecko spots—inspires solidarity with Mother Earth. 

This winter-inferno look was also created for Vanity Fair, and photographed by Adrienne Raquel,Oh shares her top nature docs, her new musical muse and her dream collaborators in the year ahead.

Vanity Fair Your designs will often include water and ice. Where did you find inspiration?

Sojin Oh: I went scuba diving at Tulum in 2016 for the first time. The kaleidoscope colors, shapes, and patterns of the coral reef etched themselves into my soul. I’ve since become fully scuba-certified. Growing up in South Korea I used to visit tide pools with my grandmother Haenam-gun. There, she went oyster hunting. This gave rise to my love of the aquatic. One of my favorite instagram accounts. @waterbod, stunningly documents the creatures of California’s tide pools. I enjoy the Natural History Museum fossil section and the Monterey Bay Aquarium—they interest me more than art museums these days. David Attenborough’s many BBC series are often on rotation when I can’t go out and experience the gifts of nature in the flesh. I think he’s opened a lot of people’s eyes to the stunningness of biodiversity, and even if a somewhat selfish appreciation of this beauty changes a perspective and leads to material change, it is very beneficial. Recent examples include Fantastic FungiNetflix is a favorite. The chef René Redzepi, who forages for rare, edible plants and fungi, is a really great example to me of how exploration of nature can inform a creative praxis. 

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A tribute to frozen flowers in winter.

Photograph courtesy Sojin Oh.

How has California influenced your love of nature?

Californians know that we humans are responsible to take care of the planet. I think of nature as Mother Nature, and when your mother gets old or sick, it’s the child’s duty to take care of her. Like Attenborough’s films, I hope the representation of nature in my nail designs inspire conservationist thinking. Individuals, like myself, can continue to make small improvements every day and hold corporations, governments, and governments accountable for the larger steps they must take. The work is inspiring me. Greta Thunberg does. California offers us the opportunity to experience so many senses. But, climate change is constantly threatening this richness. These utopian as well as dystopian visions of Mother Earth have been translated into my work.

What techniques did these fire and ice nails look like? Do you have any points of reference?

I’m very inspired by lava (one of my cats is named Lava) because it embodies this utopian/dystopian dualism. Although Lava is often seen as destructive and dangerous, it also creates and generates new life. The icicles are a representation of how time freezes and captures a minimal absence or nothingness within its clear forms. I used a building gel, which is similar to resin, and I let gravity take control of the  shape by flipping the nail and letting gravity sculpt the gel. Glass spikes were added to the ice nail designs using glass spikes that I had made by Grace WardlawTo make it appear more realistic and crystallized 

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