Beyond The Surface: Thoughts on New Paintings of Gi-Ok Jeon

By Jeong-ok Jeon (art consultant)
Artist: Gi-ok Jeon

Contemporary art, regardless of its form, is intrinsically conceptual. Beyond the physical surface of an artwork lie the artist’s thoughts and ideas, further implicating that contemporary art is to be read (or understood) rather than to be looked at (or enjoyed). Appreciating contemporary art requires one to dismantle the hidden meaning of the work. This task is further convoluted when the painting is abstract, and the visual language of the piece conflicts with the symbolic meaning conveyed by the artist.

Gi-ok Jeon’s new series of paintings exemplify the perplexity between the familiarity of the painting (a popular art genre throughout history) and the complexity of contemporary art. In her work, the inner voice is profound and the message is sincere. The aesthetic beauty and sensual pleasure that one captures immediately is not the pivotal point but merely a first impression. Ambiguous visual texts and autobiographic symbols hover around the surface, enticing the audience into an abyss beyond the screen. Her works are spontaneous yet systematic, sensible yet spiritual, unconscious yet reasonable: a fascinating festival of contradictions.

As a result, appreciating Gi-ok’s works requires careful contemplation, particularly due to the complicated and contrary processes behind her art making. For instance, in order to celebrate the spontaneous quality of painting, she crushes Korean papers, paints them with Chinese black ink, drips color paint, transfers traces of gauze, and then dips threads in ink that leave behind thin, random trails of color. On the other hand, she deliberately intervenes and reorganizes the composition of her works by portraying natural images and human figures, placing gauze on the screen to divide spaces between front and back, embroidering along circles and lines that appear accidentally, and leaving needles on the screen.

Of course, she has a reason for her exhaustive intervention. She considers gauze and thread as mediums with which she can connect herself to others, to society. As a Korean immigrant in Thailand, her response to the different culture and society of her new domicile is represented by her instinct to locate her body and spirit in a safe space — one she creates with gauze. However, she evidently wants to communicate with this society; and thus metaphorically uses thread as a bridge in front of the surface of the painting. Through such a labor-intensive and contemplative process of art making, she keeps seeking her identity and redefining her relationship to others. Likewise, we the audience may also need to labor in our observations to acquire the deeper meaning expressed through these intricate patterns.


(This article was originally written on the leaflet for the artist, published during the exhibition, Surface/Tension at Shigeko Bork Mu Project in Washington, DC, in 2008)