Kyung Jeon
Based in Brooklyn, NY

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Essay by Ellie Bronson

Kyung Jeon's High Wire Act
By Ellie Bronson

Kyung Jeon’s work depicts a brave new world, with tiny half-alien people in it. Continuing the artist’s traditional defiance of easy categorization, this new series, Karnival, portraying her signature, almost-cute, humanoids in intricate narratives, takes its title from the name of a Black Metal band.

As with past series Jeon’s cast of mini-proxies channels Henry Darger and Yoshitomo Nara while remaining distinctly her own. Karnival presents mostly Asian girls (a few male or adult figures crop up incidentally), occasionally equipped with fins or contorted into impossible acrobatics as they act out circus rituals. Topless girls with elongated breasts walk tightropes. Fish-girls with medusa hair perform joyless flips in an aquarium on wheels. Androgynous clowns wearing mittens and gloves but no shirts or pants stare dejectedly out of a lunar landscape. The circus is a culturally charged place. Performers enact dangerous stunts clad in glittery costumes. There is an abundance of both raw talent and cheap glamour. People are terrified of the clowns they have paid to amuse them.

Jeon’s work is consistently psychologically fraught, and while luring us in with its beauty and delicacy, quickly delivers a deft one-two punch of allegorical narrative and autobiographical subtext. The colors carry heavy symbolism for the artist, albeit a very personal interpretation neither universal nor easily evident in the finished works (e.g. red might symbolize evil and darkness; yellow, death and rebirth).

The “real” location of a circus is a departure for Jeon — in the past she has depicted much more fanciful fairytale worlds — though never without threat and danger present. Her realms are always visually pleasing, with flowers and vines, cats and teddy bears, but there are also monsters and rats and skulls a-plenty, reminding us that even in the parallel world to which we are transported we are not “safe.”

She works on delicate rice paper on canvas – a material exemplification of her own existence within and between two cultures – Korean and American. Karnival is a poignant reminder that life itself can feel like a high wire act – with balance at times tenuous and survival without the assistance of a net never guaranteed.

exhibition photos

recent press
"Jeon tells stories on water lilies"
The Korea Times
by Mee-yoo Kwon

Essay by Lee Won
Research Institute of Korean Studies

"Three Distinct Female Painters to Pay Attention To"
The Korea Daily NY
by Sukie Park

"Amazing Stories: Emotionally Charged Narrative in Pictures"
The New York Times
by Benjamin Genocchio

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