Jung Soo Cho
Kelly Foster – One thing I appreciate about your work is your fragmented approach. You work primarily with still life, but these pieces clearly stem from your personal experience, and items from your studio or settings you’re familiar with. I’m curious about how you select these objects and your approach towards the performative nature of your process. Can you tell me more about the newspaper clipping that inspired some conceptual ideas for this series?
Jung Soo Cho – The series started with the painting, Walking Through the Forest from 2019. I began the series of table situations after that. For the most recent one, the starting point was a newspaper I used to wrap a book I had bought. When I opened the newspaper, there was an ad for a patisserie, featuring a comic of bread. I found it intriguing as an image and incorporated it into my painting. Alongside that, there was a little text that read, “Return of Truth. Will you read?” This text and the image somehow combined in my mind and sparked the painting process quite spontaneously.
The title of the series, Walkthrough Through the Forest is metaphorical. The trees are like objects to me. The objects I’m drawn to differ based on my surroundings at that moment when I’m painting. I believe objects capture a unique moment in time. Although I start with actual objects in front of me, I don’t necessarily finish a painting in one day. I observe them until the painting is complete, which could take a few days. Occasionally, I revisit a painting that’s been left aside for months.
KF – I appreciate your spontaneous approach to each piece, treating each as its own unique experience. It seems that the amount of time dedicated to each painting and even the level of completion vary from piece to piece. For example, your recent work, Green Lights, seems more finished compared to your other, more abstract pieces.
I enjoy this mix of finished and unfinished areas within a single painting. It creates an intriguing ambiguity and tension, leaving me wondering why you place more importance on some objects. It appears to be an intuitive decision rather than a contrived one.
JSC – Indeed, the beginning of each painting can be vastly diverse in its spontaneity. Furthermore, the time to fruition and the number of layers applied diverge for each piece. This concept of ‘unfinishedness’, the interplay of drawing within painting, strikes a chord with my experiences of usage, contemplation, and translation across different languages. There are instances where the true essence of certain Korean words resists a complete or even partial translation into other languages and vice versa.
My drawing process mirrors this linguistic phenomenon. I curate a harmonious blend of seemingly incomplete, minimally drawn segments and vivid, readable imagery, much like piecing together a puzzle. Each painting, to me, carries the uniqueness of a standalone poem. Additionally, my artistic palette engages both figurative and abstract visual language. Regardless of the style, my work always draws inspiration from references, be it images from dreams, physical objects, printed visuals, or personal memories. The abstract components in my pieces gravitate towards representation. For instance, a utilised red hue may hint at the memory of an apple or a once-witnessed sunset, consciously retained in my mind.
KF – Your palette is beautifully subtle; the tones aren’t too bright or vivid. Instead, they are more muted and pastel, which is quite appealing. I also appreciate your representation of light in your works. Whether you’re portraying natural light that abstracts the objects in the setting, or artificial light in a domestic setting, your treatment of light is noteworthy.
JSC – I’m glad you noticed that. I really enjoy including light in my paintings, be it artificial or natural. It changes the colour and the overall atmosphere. I aim to have a variety in my palette.
KF – What kind of painting books do you like? Which theories or artists are currently on your mind?
JSC – Lately I’ve been reading Philip Guston’s I Paint What I Want to See, and Albert Camus’s Create Dangerously. I’ve also been really inspired by Oh, to Be a Painter! by Virginia Woolf and a Korean book loosely translated to Melancholy Created by the Desire for the Absolute by the artist Haegue Yang.
KF – It seems that you have a relationship with text and painting as something that sparks your imagination.
JSC – The language of painting is primarily image-based. But when I say I use painting as a medium, I aim to create the unseen. Even while I paint, I might not consciously notice certain things, like what colour would be if I was blind from the start, or what shapes I can see or possibly imagine.
I believe that painting is a medium through which I can imagine the unknown or the unseen. It is a medium through which I can convey that process, whether it involves people, a book, or something else.
KF – There seem to be different threads in your work, like the table objects and the plants.
JSC – Yes, I think there are three major branches in my work. One is the Table series, the second is the Plant series, and thirdly, I also paint landscapes, including cityscapes. However, at the moment, I am working on a plant series. Each plant in my paintings has a story. They represent people who I’ve met and who’ve made a significant connection in my life. It’s a modest representation, but I do imbue my personal stories into them. These plants were in the personal space of those I’ve met in my lifetime. As I journeyed into unfamiliar territories last year, the concept of portraying plants as portraits came to me.
KF – It reminds me of your earlier statement about feeling foreign in someone else’s domestic setting and using the image of a plant from their space as a means of connecting with them or capturing that experience.
JSC – It wasn’t planned initially, but I happened to travel to many places and meet people from diverse backgrounds. One by one, I encountered many worlds that became a part of my own. In this sense, the forest symbolises life itself, a lifelong subject for me.
KF – You become a blend of everyone’s energies and experiences. I think there’s a spiritual element to your work.
JSC – I think so too. The concentration I invest in the painting process involves preparing my mind and body. I workout to maintain my ability to paint daily. So, there’s undoubtedly a spiritual side to it, especially considering the time I spend alone in my studio. In a way, it’s a solitary job. But it involves constantly trying to approach something I can only understand through doing, creating, and spending time. There’s a spiritual element to it in that sense.