Exhibition Review: Logan
When Gesture Finds Its Power: Yona & JinMan Jo in Logan
by Frank McEntire
Two artists, natives of Korea and now Assistant Professors at institutions in Utah are featured in this exhibition at the Nora Harrison Eccles Museum of Art through April 30.
chunji-changjo (heaven and earth):
The “Creation” Paintings of Yona (Hyunmee Lee)
"My approach to painting is without restraint. I use color, shape and gesture to express human identity with the absence of figures. The freedom I have in my work reflects the freedom I also feel in my own life." Yona
What once was considered avant-garde, even radical, had become a conventional way of art making by the time Yona, formerly Hyunmee Lee, began to devise her approach as an abstract painter. The ambitious artist, born in Seoul, Korea, in 1961, received her undergraduate degree at the College of Fine Arts, Hong-Ik University in Seoul. She then studied for six years at the University of Sydney, completing two advanced degrees before returning to Korea in 1991 to teach at her alma mater. Yona moved to the United States in 1997 where she is an Assistant Professor of Art at Utah Valley State College in Orem, Utah.
Yona mentions the influence of Wassily Kandinsky, a pioneer of abstract art, who wrote about “inner necessity,” meaning that a painting, particularly a nonobjective one, needs to express an artist’s profound, perhaps unconscious, emotional or spiritual experiences and generate similar responses (or “vibrations of the spirit”) in the viewer.
Although the early abstractionists based much of their work on an eclectic array of metaphysics and appropriated imagery from African, folk, and Oriental art, there was no need for Yona to invent a philosophical armature for the inner structure of her work. Her paintings are imbued with spiritual underpinnings derived from the traditions of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism and influences from ancient Korean calligraphy.
Zen Buddhism and its concept of “ch’i” (energy) is central to Yona’s work: “Thinking of formlessness, consider the idea that ‘the self in reality has no form.’ If we can do that, we are on the path to Zen . . . Ch’i, on the other hand, is about the spirit that animates and connects all things. Ch’i is the life force. Without ch’i I cannot breathe. Without ch’i, my painting cannot live.”
The dozens of paintings exhibited for the first time in “When Gesture Finds Its Power” at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art are the culmination of Yona’s Chunji-Changjo (Heaven and Earth): Creation Series. They combine early Asian teachings about the formless self and ch’i with the metaphysical intentions of early Western nonobjective art. This assimilation of East/West energy generates an enchantment seldom experienced in today's market-driven art world.
Yona usually begins her work by drawing on the canvas, then putting down layers of paint and scumbling and marking the wet surface but soon shifts to the spiritual explorations that cajole her work into existence. “The repetition of making and erasing form is how I deconstruct the existing order to make formless space,” she says. “I try to keep the rhythm continuous. This is where I find the creation mind,” or, as Kandinsky might say, encounter the “vibrations of the spirit.”
Color muted and subdued is the language of formlessness in Yona’s painting. She says the “tones are a mixture of earth and charcoal, which is too elusive to be a direct guide to the meaning of a painting. This makes the viewer think, to form a personal interpretation, and to know a deeper feeling.”
The works exhibited in “When Gesture Finds Its Power” are the latest result of a theme Yona has been working with since 1986. Her paintings seem to be one continuous visual poem with stanzas marked by different year cycles and titles: The Metaphysics of Being (1986- 88); First Face (1989-92); Objecthood-Intrinsic Space (1993-95); Seeing Through the Self (1997-98); Empathy Through the Window (1998-2001); and Mountain Armatures (2001-02).
Each cycle has been an exercise in personal exploration and sacrifice, and preparation for Chunji-Changjo, Yona’s magnificent Creation Series, a body of work that she says, relates “to the human’s inner mind.” Her work is a 𠇋lance of empowerment and meditation, without using recognizable symbols,” and which “relies on pure gesture.”
At work in her studio, Yona says she seeks a harmony between the conscious and unconscious mind. During that interplay, she is most interested “in the immediacy of gesture,” especially the “moment when the gesture finds its own power.”
like a rock in deep water:
The Sculptural Works of JinMan Jo
"I have been driven, from the beginning, to explore and interpret identity and self-consciousness in society, and to express this in my sculptural works." -- JinMan Jo
“My work is like my diary,” says JinMan Jo. “Within it, I express my anger and also my hope.” His diary, written in stone, metal, and wood, is laden with anxiety about identity, including his own. “My work seeks to explore the negotiation of identity and self-consciousness in modern society,” says JinMan, who, in 1972, was born in the small city of Seosan, Korea. “Through sculpture I am realizing the journey of finding my identity.”
JinMan’s identity is inextricably connected with “Han,” a term used by Koreans since ancient times to describe the hearts of people who have endured or are enduring suffering. “When the wounds are invisible, ‘Han’ occurs deeply within the heart or soul of the person,” he explains.
Many contemporary Korean artists share JinMan’s malady of disquietude, and this is reflected in their work. “Contemporary Korean art was saddled with an identity crisis from its outset,” writes Kwang-Myung Kim of Seoul, South Korea, for Canadian Aesthetics Journal ("Korean Aesthetic Consciousness and the Problem of Aesthetic Rationality,” Vol. 2, Winter, 1998). This modern predicament can be traced to conflicts within traditional Korean culture in an industrialized, modern world as well as to oppressive political events, especially those beginning at the turn of the twentieth century.
“To call something 'Korean,'” writes Kim, “brings up the question of Korea's unique tradition. When it comes to contemporary art, the question involves an almost unavoidable confrontation between tradition and today. This confrontation is directly linked with the problem of identity, a problem which has ramifications for society as a whole.”
JinMan, however, sees Han as a global condition, one that is expressed in his art. “I feel the people of the modern world are becoming more alienated from each other due to the unceasing desire for economic expansion. I believe the labor for the work is my being, my self-discovery, and my only hope to recover humanity for myself as well as others.” His desire to “express the boldness and dignity of the human spirit” is evident in the works on exhibit in “When Gesture Finds Its Power” at the Nora Eccles Museum of Art.
“My view of the world is not through sociology,” says JinMan, “but though the philosophy of existentialism: I am like a rock in deep water; dark and heavy, but not without hope. Even in the deepest water there are living things that not only survive, but thrive and have their own innate beauty, such as plants and colorful fishes. “
Although JinMan may not explicitly describe the processes he uses to make his sculptures as ritual, he works on the edges of what Kim refers to as “the most authentic cultural legacy of Koreans,” which is shamanism. JinMan approaches his work in a spiritual, almost ceremonial manner. He describes his process:
“I work slowly and steadily just as a drop makes a hole on a large rock. In working with stone, steel, and wood I must use great force to change the rigid nature of the material into the forms I choose. As my materials take on their new forms they become vehicles for the transmission of my ideas to the viewer.”
Kim claims Koreans have forgotten shamanism “in the course of acculturation, especially so-called westernization or modernization . . .” However, it is in true shaman fashion that JinMan, as a healer, harnesses what he calls his “personal Han,” the “sorrow, or resignation, or sigh.”
JinMan says that his sculptural works express “both sadness and hope, like ‘Han.’” The sadness, he says, “stems from our effort to accept the contradiction facing all living things, and hope comes from the will to overcome the contradiction.” He believes that “spirituality is found in every living thing.” In this way, he asserts, he will become aware of the equality of his life “through sculpture.”
Frank McEntire, sculptor and independent curator, is the former art critic for The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake Magazine. McEntire curated “When Gesture Finds Its Power” as a service of the Utah Arts Council when he was its Executive Director.
What's Up and Upcoming Around the State
OREM: UVSC Woodbury Art Museum Three student exhibits will be on display during the month of April at Utah Valley State College’s Woodbury Art Museum. The first is the annual UVSC Student Exhibit, eligible to anyone enrolled at UVSC during the 2004-2005 school year. This is the second year the museum has hosted the Utah High School Jewelry and Small Metals Exhibit. Like the UVSC Student Exhibit, the Utah High School Jewelry and Small Metals Exhibit is an open-juried event for students across the state. “Tap the Talent” is a program for students in Utah’s Juvenile Correctional Facilities to develop artistic, writing, and social skills. They create a comic book character and write a corresponding story or adventure. These creations are framed and hung, and the stories bound in a folder, for patrons to peruse and enjoy.
All exhibits are free and open to the public. The UVSC Woodbury Art Museum, located at University Mall in Orem, is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information about this or any upcoming exhibits or events at the UVSC Woodbury Art Museum, visit www.uvsc.edu/gallery, or call (801) 426-6199.
PROVO: BYU's Museum of Art presents “Thoroughly Modern: The ‘New Women’ Art Students of Robert Henri” (see page 1).
TERRA NOVA GALLERY: Presents the works of Jean Jeppson Clay and Marsha Ellis through April 22. Reminiscent of Sesame Street characters, Jean Jeppson Clay's three-dimensional animal sculptures are a great addition to any children's library. Less than life size, these elephants, giraffes and other exotic animals will soon warm your heart. Marsha Ellis is an exceptional artist and a local favorite. Large or small, these paintings capture the personalities of dogs and cats with a hint of humor.
OGDEN: Eccles Community Art Center : Through March, the 14th Statewide Photographic Competition and mixed media work by Annette Orrock in the Carriage House Gallery. During the month of April, recent works by Osral Allred with Ogden Color Camera Club Print Competition in the Carriage House.
Artists and Heirlooms: An Exhibit of new art work by impressionist artist Lynn Cozzens will be displayed for the Month of April on the Show floor of Artists and Heirlooms. The show will open with an Artists Reception on Friday April 1st 2005 from 6 to 9 p.m.
PARK CITY: Kimball Art Center Arte Latino (see page 1)
SPRINGVILLE:Springville Museum of Art: Through April 1, Southwest Visions, a travelling exhibition of 50 paintings commissioned by the Santa Fe Railway produced in the first half of the twentieth century.