2007 Kukje Gallery
Inside Out: Examined, Exposed, Expressed
By Emma Son
With the rapid development of technology and the widespread use of the Internet, our access to images and information is greater than ever before. Things have become very public; the world has become one big system, one exemplified by its sensitivity towards the visual. Through the prevalent use of computers and the Internet, we are accustomed to seeing popular images and iconic characters derived from cartoons, magazines, manga, and/or computer games from different cultural backgrounds. The socio-cultural and personal matters depicted in these anthropomorphic images and avatars infiltrate global contemporary society, including the realm of art. Characters derived from mass culture and the ordinary stream of commerce first became a phenomenon in the art world via Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in 1950s and 1960s. More recently, this phenomenon is embodied by the the pull exerted by the images created by Japanese artists Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, Murakami and Nara might be said to have created an iconography of the present, largely because the images they depicted were at once funny, sexy, attractive, and above all, familiar.
The anthropomorphic and/or human images that these and other artists have employed in their works often reflect their own perceptions of the self, of culture, and of society. But what has become more obvious is that artists dealing with such issues as identity, personal experiences, culture, and society now tend to make overt the images and/or fantasies that they yearn for on the inside. The earlier characters created and reproduced by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Murakami, and Nara have themselves produced images that reflect more upon the locality and homogeneity of ideas and issues. Works that might still be considered within the framework of Pop Art seem to have gone against the grain of the earliest Pop Art works based on the depiction of a central character. In lieu of conformity and anonymity, recent works now emphasize diversity and individuality. Such a shift is evident in the works exhibited in the exhibition.
Although represented in different and very individual styles, all four artists share the task of illustrating their personal and social experiences and thoughts via iconic characters that reference mass culture. Creating a type of a self-portrait, each of the four artists evince uniquely personal images in various media in order to reflect upon issues such as self-identity, society, and culture in a world almost over-determined by its claims to globality. The works shown here cover a wide range of media, from painting to computer-based technology to sculpture. The main objective of this show is to examine the aesthetic realm in which each artist, through the mediating agent of the artwork, function. In doing so, the view might subsequently come to reexamine issues that often remain as latent, albeit powerful undercurrents working throughout our daily lives.
Kyung Jeon's cute, submissive, yet mischievous figures of children touch upon her personal experiences as a Korean-American living in America not necessarily receptive to persons of color. Always feeling uneasy about herself as an Asian within a predominantly white society, Jeon experienced feelings of awkwardness, loneliness, and possibly alienation while growing up. Her feelings and experiences can be detected throughout her work, as her paintings are narratives of her life and perhaps those of others in similar situations. In addition to her past experiences, the events that occur around her and her family and friends also figure prominently in her works, such as relationships, marriages, and motherhood.
Rendered in various pastel shades, groups of half-naked Asian figures floating around the canvas instantly grasp the viewer's attention. However, upon close inspection of each work, one realizes that the work is not just a sweet assortment of imagistic confections. Instead, the figures are dark and even shocking. In Autumn (2006), what draws the viewer's attention are the pretty palettes of red, pink, lemon yellow flowers on the top part of the work together with the array of little figures in motion. At first, the complexity of color and composition deflects the viewer from apprehending the work's details. But as one spends more time with the painting, one realizes that what appear as sweet figures are actually violent beings, killers, even. On the left towards the center, a boy holding the head of a girl with one hand and a knife on the other. Such a paradoxical effect is crucial to Jeon's work, for it is her way of interacting with the viewer. It forces the viewer to reconsider the message that her work conveys.
Once perceived as a drawback, Jeon's Korean heritage enriches her work, both in terms of depiction as well as materials. Her unconventional use of traditional Korean rice paper laid on canvas creates an interesting textural result, one that added to the work's psychological, as well as physical depth. Jeon frequently includes landscape or seascape scenes in her work. In depicting specific elements like sea creatures and trees, for example, she refers to image resources accessed through the Internet. The composition of her work is informed by the works of the traditional Korean painter Lee So-Ji, who mainly paints landscapes and people. Jeon's work is brimming with happenings both personal and public in tone. The narratives that unfold in Jeon's work allow the viewer to revisit past childhood memories yet at the same time rethink the society in which he or she lives in at present.
Kukje Gallery Catalog, 2007.