Kyung Jeon
Based in Brooklyn, NY

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Emerging Artist Research Paper for Christie's Education
June 20, 2013 by Kyung Jeon

When a student from Christie's Education emailed me about interviewing me for her research paper, I was actually excited so I could read an essay about my work from the point of view of a student. Here's what she wrote:

Christie’s Education: Emerging Artist Research Paper
By Sehee Emma Park
Artist Worthy of Attention: Kyung Jeon
"Blinded by clouds of sorrow the girl falls over the cliff’s edge. But she is saved by goodness, which is everywhere though sometimes hiding."
-from “a story” by Kyung Jeon
Walking in to her studio in Bushwick, NY -a dog welcoming, cozy space filled with off-white walls and furniture- felt as if walking in to a friend’s room, a friend who I have known for a long time. I could notice some of her more well-known paintings on the wall and the white wall made the colors of her paintings stand out more. Her paintings are eye catching and I moved closer to the canvas to look at them carefully even before I asked her to sit down for an interview.
Kyung Jeon is a Korean-American artist, who lives and works in New York. She was born in 1975 in New Jersey, and obtained M.F.A. in Fine Arts at School of Visual Arts in 2005, and graduated Boston College (B.A.) with double major in Studio Art and Philosophy in 1997. Jeon has been awarded the Scope Emerging Artist Prize in 2005, and is a recipient of Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant of 2009, along with the Associate Artist in Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts funded by the Joan Mitchell Foundation. She has had numerous solo exhibitions and group exhibitions in the States, as well as in Asia, Europe, and South America. She is represented by Kukje Gallery in Seoul, Korea, and by Tina Kim Gallery in New York City.
Jeon prominently uses both drawing and painting techniques in producing her works. She mostly uses medium such as led pencil, watercolor, gouache, and Korean rice paper (Hanji) on canvas. One of her best known works are the Waterlilies series, which are the series of paintings depicted in pastel toned colors on a rice paper on canvas. Her inspiration of the series originates from Claude Monet’s study of waterlilies which gained Monet attention of his use of diaphanous textures that provides an illustration in point.  The series include 10 paintings ranging from mural size triptych(151.1x274.3cm) to a smaller size single canvas(25.4x20.3cm). Jeon uses subject matters both from her fantasies and from real life, personalizing it with an autobiographical narrative.
Kyung Jeon Waterlilies Kyung Jeon Waterliles Kyung Jeon Waterlilies
Waterlilies Big Splash (2012), Waterlilies Gliding Parachutes (2012), and Waterlilies Whirlpool (2012) are the large size triptychs that contains majority of her autobiographical content. These paintings reveals the narrative of her identity as a Korean woman born in the United States by tracing back to the past of the historical background of her grandparent’s generation recalled by her own experience to visit the DMZ area, the North Korean border. Autobiographical themes include separation of the north and south of Korean land during the Korean War and the tragedy of her grandparents forcefully being separated from their families during the war period. Moreover, themes of reunification, Hiroshima bombing, and whirlpool are also present with a whimsical composition of figures flying in parachutes. Decades later, her grandparents met their family on a boat in Chinese territory and through the narratives of the family history; she develops her own identity even further. Jeon’s depiction of the mini figured boys and girls and the drawing techniques are inspired by an American artist Henry Darger.  The minimized fairy-like characters in her paintings lay in between her personal experiences and the fantastical world.
However, her works are not simply a naïve fairytale. Although at first glance, her works address some sort of a primitive naïve techniques and atmosphere. Yet, the subject matter often contains violence and darkness under the veil of innocent fairy tale that can be overcome through an ending of suggesting hope and peace. The theme of darkness and the violence –and somewhat creepiness- underneath the surface of innocence is best shown in her work, Waterlilies Girl Portrait (2012, 25.4cmx20.3, acrylic flashe paint on rice paper on canvas, wooden panel). This painting is a small size wooden panel composed of a close-up front view of a girl. Although she used rice paper, this particular painting has comparatively less of the sheer and blurry effect than the larger paintings of the series. Jeon apparently reveals the significant theme of emotions by using the innocent looking blushing girl and merging it with the ambivalence, the darkness through the eyes and the frowning eyebrows. The similar aspects can be found through works of Yoshitomo Nara. Nara also plays with the notion of darkness hidden under the cuteness in many of his figures. As Ngai puts it, “Nara’s large-eyed children are frequently presented as maimed and wounded, or upset and distressed in which the phrase “black eye, fat lips, and opened wound” captions one of Nara’s signature little girls.”
Kyung Jeon Chapter 12Jeon’s earlier works engage more deeply in the concept of vulnerability and the wounded, which are shown through numerous paintings series, titled the “a story” series that consist of 13 different chapters on same size canvas. Miniature figures appear often with a reference in nature, composed in a playful manor. She uses the same medium such as graphite, gouache, and watercolor on rice paper on canvas in this series, therefore, the fairy-tale, blurry, sheer, and whimsical effect is also prominent. However, “a story” series focuses on philosophical themes such as motherhood, love, failing of relationship, and the vulnerability of human body. In Chapter 1 (2008, 43 3/4x69 3/4 inch) and Chapter 2 (2008), her ability to insert autobiographical aspects that personalizes her fictional fairy tale reveals once again by referencing her own experience of a break up in the past. Moreover, in works like Chapter 12 (2008), her versatile health condition in real life also translates to the theme of vulnerable female body in her paintings. Jeon’s continuing illness and poor health conditions reveals through her works as a subject matter. Similarly, Frida Kahlo, who stated “I paint flowers so they will not die”, also dealt with themes such as death, vulnerability, illness, and motherhood.
Jeon is currently in the process of working on her new object “shadow box series”. Her approach to develop a more tangible, closer to three dimensional works turns out as paper cut figures that appears in her paintings contained in a shadow box with each different narratives and backgrounds. She uses themes driven from nature, astronomy, and biblical references. These works shows clear mixture of the Korean and Japanese traditional styles with the contemporary, all merged with her personalization, and flourishing colors. Shadow box can be referred back to works of Joseph Cornell in containing the own past in to the shadow box.  Jeon’s shadow box series has not been revealed to the public exhibition yet.

Kyung Jeon On MotherhoodIn her other paintings such as the Karnival series, Flowering Girls(2009), On Motherhood(2005), and etc., she continuously insert feast of pastel colors, whimsical compositions, and creative miniature figures in narratives with themes of maypole, motherhood, femininity, and nature, allowing to balance her Korean identity and the personal style to create unique works. Kyung Jeon is an artist worth of attention and her nostalgic yet powerful works does address her real self as a woman, a Korean-American, and a contemporary artist of the current generation.
Website Information:
Coe, Ralph. "Claude Monet in Edinburgh and London." The Burlington Magazine, 1957: 385.
Grimberg, Salomon. "Frida Kahlo's still lifes." Woman's Art Journal, 2004-2005: 25-30.
Kim, Miki Wick. Korean Contemporary Art. Munich, London, New York: Prestel, 2012.
Myers, John Bernard. "Joseph Cornell and the Outside World." Art Journal, 1975-1976: 115-117.
Ngai, Sianne. "The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde." Chicago Journals, 2005: 820.
Rattemeyer, Christian. Compass in Hand. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2009.
Kyung Jeon
Based in Brooklyn, NY

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