선물 ; The light
선물 ; The light
Artist : Jiyoun Jeon
Curator : Hankyoung Yun
YUN: You seem to have been painting constantly since high school. What made you decide to be an artist as your professional career?
JEON: As I remember, I was seven and it was the children’s day. I did a little presentation about my future hope shyly but quite seriously before my teacher and classmates. On that day, I promised myself that I want to live as an artist even without knowing what an artist’s life looks like. Since then, I have never abandoned my hope for life as an artist except the moment when I won a prize in a piano competition. Perhaps my grandfather who loved painting and took me along to sketch in the open air was able to influence my decision. Since then, I went to an art high school and art college, and also to the states to study art. My practice as a professional artist may have started since 1998, but the time when I was finally released from all those agonies and frustrations that I had confronted over years was about eight years ago. (smile)
It couldn’t be easy for anyone but it really was not easy to keep plowing a furrow that requires drawing my breath everyday with no promised guidelines but only faith in the way I chose. Therefore, I could never have a light heart when I meet younger artists who decide to plow their own artist path because I know that it would be a long struggle with all the possibilities of agonies and need for patience. In such agony, the Light just happened to me like a gift. Some called it is a wonderful coincidence and others called it a blessing. Some of the recipients might complain that the gift is too small, but I received such blessing with heartfelt gratitude and it became the genuine source of my art. My time in agony strangled me just enough to learn the humbleness without giving up and the patience that requires faith in myself.
YUN: The motif for your art work is called ‘Ulgae’. As I find the definition of this word from the dictionary is ‘the structure that holds the shape of things or organizations’, or a ‘wide-tooth comb’ in a dialect of Gangwon province. Then what does ‘Ulgae’ mean to you?
JEON: The first ‘Ulgae’ that completes a certain level of shape was created in 2007. It is a loosely formed shape of structure that looks somehow flat and three-dimensional at the same time. The pointed tip faces upward and the entire body shape looks light enough to float. To me, such loose structure resembles us in that it is strong but not strong, and weak but not weak at the same time. The loose structure formed with umbrella-rib-like frames embodies the features that can’t possibly hold liquid but flow down, and yet the liquid still can be limited to the size of structure. In other words, the structure has perfect conditions to float while embracing the surroundings.
‘Ulgae’ cannot be stopped. No matter if it’s on its own will or not, it is supposed to be flowing. In life, against the absoluteness of time, I should empty myself first to fill myself up faithfully, and normalize the odds, which is different from the reality.
Then where is the final destination of Ulgae’s journey? To someone, it is where they dream of, and to others it is where their life should reach at last. Birth and death is what is fairly given to everyone. We as breathing human beings will all face death one day, and will set the journey along with their belief for a new place to settle, which I call ‘heavenly home’. The conclusion is that ‘Ulgae’ implies a person who is imperfect but faithfully lives through the given life which is heartbreaking but beautiful. Let’s talk about how beautiful the Ulgae is.
YUN: Considering the works at the time you worked at the residency program of MMCA in Goyang in 2004, it seems quite different even though some clues can be found as a visual language of your art. Can it be connected to Ulgae as well?
JEON: Back then I painted a simpler form of Ulgaes gathering and floating in abyss or void space on the wall or canvas. They were the Ulgaes drifting beyond space. In such process, I naturally began to pay attention to ‘relationship’ and soon realized that ‘relationship’ has many different forms and ways. In other words, I came to realize that human beings live through a life-long progress to be matured with all kinds of different and extended relationships, from the relationship between me and myself, my family and me, society and me, nature and me, and at last the absolute being (God) and me. None of these relationships could be ignored, and the beauty of such relationships can be made when all those relationships balance together. Of course, the starting point should be ‘loving myself’ and that gives us an ability to love others. But, in a wider and greater angle, I also think that having a comfortable and intimate relationship with the absolute being whom each one of us has in life fulfills the genuine self-esteem of us, and that leads well-rounded relationships with all other kinds.
Thus, you may see it this way. The Ulgae in 2004 was expressed in a macroscopic perspective when the recent one is showing its presence in a microscopic perspective.
YUN: Speaking of your works in the past, could you explain how your work evolved in 10 years? And how do you expect such history of work development influence your future work?
JEON: Artwork and its practice should be based on honesty. Of course, an artist could paint just to show for a certain moment. However, twenty to thirty years as a painter requires eliminating things like ostentations and habits which does not genuinely belong to the artist. I think such requirements are just like the painting process. Artwork reveals the religion, philosophical mind, and belief of the artist, which indicates that my work in the past paid great attention to religion as an important theme. Until I finished my graduate school, the samsara(wheels of life) and the anguish of human life was my main themes. I showed an expectation of what lies beyond secular world in my work but also the lonesomeness and silence existing on the other side of such expectation was reflected as well. I became a Christian in 1997. Since then, I have been working on the understanding of my faith in God, which is expressed through the abstract image, called ‘Ulgae’.
In reality, society is running by visible things than the invisible. All those materialized conditions such as mammonism, lookism, and education background are preferentially valued over others. Frankly, I can’t say that I am totally free from such perfectives, but I have tried to seek what really matters and what has the true value in life. I think that the artwork is the figuration of what the artist seeks, isn’t it? The goal and task to carry on my work is to give artistic shape to the value that belongs to the invisibles, and to minimize the gap lying between the visible and invisible for the sake of the things such as love, heavenly home, and joy that are realized by seeing through the faith.
I don’t know if I can explain the future developing of my work, but I can say for sure that the identity in the work would not be changed.
YUN: What is the definition of contemporary art to you? And what do you think makes a good artwork?
JEON: There are many books talking about what the contemporary art is. And the artists who live in 21st century probably have asked this question to themselves many times. I think that creating a sensation by delivering extreme ugliness, forcing the feeling of disruption occurred by intense lamination, and denying art that doesn’t follow the sprit of the times with cultural and social messages under the name of contemporary art is not what contemporary art is about. What I think about contemporary art is that the art that does not force the artists to reflect society at the time in their artwork and also does not force the artist to participate in the pain of the time so as if only their participations make some differences in the society.
Everyone can be an artist and a critic in contemporary art, and it also creates the cultural environment that everyone could be somebody else’s audience.
– Sanggil Oh
I think contemporary art is ‘freedom’. However, freedom should embrace dignity as art. Art should be creative. The art without creativity should not be acknowledged as a form of art, but extreme choices for newness that shakes the identity of the artist should also be avoided. Creativity and identity demand to be level together.
To me, good artworks are the well-expressed visual forms that become a good pathway between the artists and the audience to communicate about what is not visible. ‘Communication brings changes and the changes keeps the uniqueness.’
If news with negatively false information about someone is continually reported in the public, the false information becomes true at last. This is the scary feature of negative tactics, which is utilizing the human psychology. In that sense, doing art requires responsible behavior. Art may not change the society, but at least it could comfort people in grieving and bring out the memories of time that is dearly missed.
YUN: Your artwork often seem to be made up with ‘a set of pair’. And to express the pair, some works look like engraved print or even sculptures. Maybe it gives such impression because of the surface texture on the works. Is there any intended relation between the concept of ‘pair’ and the Ulgae?
JEON: I preferably, but not necessarily, make artwork in pairs considering the features of the material and the conditions required in the process of work, but I usually start with three or four works at the same time to save time because the medium I use, which is paint, stone-powder, and other things, requires at least half a day to dry up to make clean seams on the surface. As another benefit, making works in pairs enables me to enrich each works by comparing the weak or incomplete one from another. In such process, I tend to open the shape of Ulgae to give various alterations. Usually, I make excuses beforehand, but there are always the possibility that the intended image turns out differently because of the subtle difference of the colors. Some works are misunderstood as if decalcomania, but there are very subtle distinctions. (both colors and shapes). I sometimes become emotional by seeing the colors and that leads the image changed often.(smile) I’m just imperfect and emotional like the Ulgae. My friends think that my works are rational and planned, but I always try to keep the emotional level with the rational one in the process.
YUN: There are sections not fully filled up with a simple solid color that reminds me of a work of fabric quilting in your color-field. Do such sections have any specifically intended meaning, for example, the works as a female figure and the roles?
JEON: My shards of colors have more romantic meanings than the symbol of female labor such as quilt or sewing. It’s about the shards of the beauty and talents that I embrace in me. The more various and lovelier shard of colors it shows, the more talent I embrace in me, right? As I define the concept of the Ulgae as a structure resembling a human being, I assume that we all have potential talents that are so precious and valuable but not discovered or developed yet. The world we are living in is a community composed of various individuals where some happen to have one talent and others happen to have more than one.
As people dream about society with people who share and exchange their different talents with joy, I also wish, in such a dream, to be a part who offers artwork as a tool of ‘comforting’ and ‘reconciling’ each other.
YUN: Would you please tell us, as an artist, what your future path would look like?
JEON: This kind of question is somehow inevitable in an interview even if it is not very easy to speak out. (laughter) The reason that we could be more grateful as we get older every year probably means that we expand our mind to wait without being anxious and diverse our perspective to see the world. The perspective that I have defined and looked at based on what derived from the philosophy, educations, and belief of accumulated time, changes with more flexibility to understand the things than l used to have in mind.
The Ulgae is who we are today, which will evolve more ideally with time, and also indicates how fragile we are. Therefore, the Ulgae will change its shape along with the level of maturity of the artist. The artwork is the avatar of the artist, and the mirror that soundly reflects who the artist is. This is somehow the reason that I am sometimes ‘’afraid of completing the work. I can’t help myself but asking “who are you?” and “what do you really paint?”
I want to be a beautiful person. It’s not about seeking absolute beauty or the beauty against the nature of time. As a Christian who combines intellect, feeling, and will, I want to be a person who knows how to render evil for good, and has an inner beauty to comfort the ugliness and to cover deficiencies. It’s the abundance of life I mean to live on. One day, I wish my Ulgae could float in the sky of Seoul and New York in the form of three dimension structures, if it becomes mature enough to be ready for that.