Gyunghee Joh, Paesaggi Mistici (Mystical Landscapes), Acrylic on Canvas
We all inhabit many worlds. Artist Gyunghee Joh realizes this, and creates works of art that bridge many of our realities—the waking and dreaming worlds, the present and the past, the experience of the moment and the illusory knowledge of memories.
Her delicate, evocative acrylic paintings present simple images with complex layers. They depict moments of mystery. A full moon. An unknown shoreline. A doorway to nowhere. But in their mystery, there are truths that cannot be easily explained, and cannot be accessed through known pathways. As we consider a painting of a diver in the moonlight, a fishing boat in the hazy distance, a lone figure framed by a door, we are seeing something at once familiar and unknown.
Gyunghee Joh, Oblivion Seekers, Acrylic on canvas, 27.5”x35.4”, 2014
The dichotomy of the light and darkness has occupied the human spirit for as long as we have been human, and has inspired artists of all ages. The dark is to be feared. The dark is where danger dwells. Saints and gods are surrounded by circles of light. Yet, Gyunghee Joh's work reverses that. In her paintings, it is the shadows that draw us in and welcome us. They are bathed in a gentler light, the soft light of the moon, with its more feminine nature.
Gyunghee Joh, Oblivion Seekers 4, Acrylic on Canvas
The paintings beckon you to join them in their solitude, their calm. The artist, who was raised in cities, and now chooses to live in the Italian countryside, is familiar with the joys of quietude. In either words or images, it is easy to be heard when one is loud. It is sometimes much more valuable to hear the softer voices, the whispers that come not from the mouth, but from the center of heart. Gyunghee gently pares away all unnecessary distractions. Her return to basics utilizes, in the artist's words "a composition of essential elements with a minimal use of strokes and colors, to represent our collective wishes and hopes." It is at the core where we share the most in common with one another.
Gyunghee Joh, Oblivion Seekers , Acrylic on Canvas
Because of Gyunghee's limited palette of pale gray, black, white, and sepia, the paintings resemble film stills or old photographs, reinforcing the sense of the past and the complex processes of remembering and forgetting. "Our minds are porous," wrote Jorge Luis Borges, "and forgetfulness seeps in." Gyunghee Joh embraces this porous aspect, and makes use of this forgetfulness. She says her images are from memory, from imagination, from somewhere deep within. Rather than depicting what she sees, she paints what she knows.
Gyunghee Joh, Oblivion Seekers Triptych 3, Acrylic on canvas, 27.5”x35.4”, 2014
There are elements of Eastern art in Joh's use of monochromatic paint. They recall the tonalities of ink paintings and speak of her Korean heritage. But the enigmatic lone figures who populate her imaginary landscapes bring to mind the Italian surrealism of de Chirico. Like the figures in her paintings, Joh bridges many worlds. She is the product of a traditional society, who chooses to travel the world in all its modern complexity.
Gyunghee Joh, Oblivion Seekers , Acrylic on Canvas, 27.5”x 29.5”, 2014
Yet, it is to the nocturne that she always returns, both in life and in her artwork. The deceptively simple, yet richly evocative paintings of Gyunghee Joh remind us that life does not only take place on the level of reality. We also live in dreams, memory, myth and imagination.
About the author:
Mary Gregory is a NY arts writer and critic whose work appears in numerous publications.
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