An exhibition by Jo Eun at the Artside Gallery

Everyday Life and Travel, as Portrayed by Jo Eun
We spoke with artist Jo Eun, who had recently finished a solo exhibition, about travel destinations, cities and her career. Words of her answers permeated through sentences, like the way ink spreads on paper in ink wash paintings.
“I feel a sense of calm when looking at nature, and that’s not because everything is clean and net. I love the way natural objects of different shapes and forms ‘naturally’ mingle with one another. Nature is beautiful because of its diversity. While enjoying such views, I try to write an ideal narrative within myself and translate that into canvas.”
Artist Jo Eun

Path with Low Homes and High Trees_2020_ink-wash on hanji_90×198㎝

Lee Tae-ho, professor of art history at Myongji University, studied just how closely ‘real landscape paintings’ from the Joseon Dynasty resembled actual scenery. In his book , Lee claimed that most such paintings didn’t come close to recapturing the natural surroundings. If anything, Jeong Seon and many other artists used their imagination, instead of painting what was in front of them. Inwang Jesaekdo, which depicted Inwangsan, and other real landscape works of the late Joseon era seem to be showing what the artists wanted to see, despite some hints of resemblance of the actual landscape.

Beads in the Green_2021_ink-wash on hanji _126×126㎝

Beads in the Green_2022_ink-wash on hanji_126×126㎝

The Artside Gallery, near Gyeongbokgung, held an exhibition for the artist Jo Eun in the summer. It was a widely-acclaimed first solo exhibit for Jo. It was as if she had received permission to continue with her career.
The first impression from Jo’s works was similar to the sensation you’d get from seeing real landscape paintings of Joseon. This doesn’t necessarily mean Jo produces real landscape works. She puts houses amongst trees in a beautiful forest, which is fronted by a beach and people. Her paintings exude relaxing vibes. Trees, forests, ocean and waves form such an easy harmony, like light and shade in an ink-and-wash painting. You may catch yourself grinning. And the question also begs: what kind of place would this be?
So we asked Jo about her exhibition and traveling.

Artist at work inside her studio

Oriental Painting, or Landscape Illustration

Q. It’s great to meet you. Please introduce yourself to our readers.
A. I do landscape paintings where nature and humans come together, and tell stories of diversity and harmony with those paintings. I mostly use materials for Oriental paintings.

Q. You just had your first exhibition at the Artside Gallery. How did it go?
A. I’ve always wanted to be true to myself, telling stories and posing questions in my own unique ways. That’s perhaps why it took me so long to have a solo exhibition. Luckily, just when I felt I had everything all organized, the gallery reached out. The exhibition went exactly the way I wanted it to go.

Conversation_2022_ink-wash on hanji _62×50㎝

Beads in the Green_2022_ ink-wash on hanji _117×91㎝

Q. Your paintings are different from typical Oriental paintings. They also seem like contemporary landscape paintings, or even illustrations of landscape.
A. I’ve long agonized over materials for my Oriental paintings. Hanji and meok (inkstick) are traditional materials with delicate beauty, but they’re considered outdated. I wanted to highlight features of my materials while also producing contemporary paintings. I’ve always been fascinated with the structural power or density of space, and so I naturally used white space or line drawing of the traditional landscape painting on a limited basis. I’ve been mixing in different techniques and materials, depending on the overall mood of the work.

View of the exhibition at the Artside Gallery

Q. On the gallery’s website, the introduction to your exhibition had the phrase, “nature that doesn’t exist in real life.” It sounded as though you weren’t referring to any specific space.
A. In most of my words, the natural surroundings that I paint are essentially virtual space, with fragments of real life landscape pieced together. I would draw or photograph views that I enjoyed while traveling or during a typical day, and work those pieces into the canvas. For bigger paintings, I would create a small town-like framework and then put in trees, houses and residents in different shapes and forms.

Q. Whereas your landscape is quite dense, people are really small, as if they’re engulfed in their surroundings. What are your thoughts on the relationship between nature and human?
A. I try to convey the solemn, quiet dignity that nature exudes, and I think this goes well with moek. As you spend time in constantly-changing nature that leaves you in awe, you may start resembling that very nature. That was my hope when I started this project.

fireworks_2022_ ink-wash on hanji _62×50㎝

“On radio, I once heard a line from a poem, ‘People are like marbles that reflect lights off one another to make themselves shine.’ In my head, I was able to picture marbles, in so many different colors that they can’t even be defined, sparkling in nature. I wanted to paint the way people illuminate nature or one another as they build connections while maintaining their unique identity.”
Artist Jo Eun
Q. You have painted an urban residential area, jampacked with apartment buildings and villas. There aren’t any people, only trees and plants. Why did you decide not to put any people there?
A. I’ve always liked plants and trees, and I’ve been particularly interested in parts of nature frequented by people. In my earlier works, I painted pots and plants that you’d find on balconies and rooftops in typical neighborhoods. I suppose I wanted to see how people felt through those plants. I figured that, even if you didn’t put any people in your paintings, you could still tell who was growing plants and pots. I’ve expressed natural quality in all of us through plants.

Beads in the Green_2022_ ink-wash on hanji _120×120㎝

My lovely fairy tale_2021_ ink-wash on hanji _122×120㎝

My lovely fairy tale_2022_ink-wash on hanji _33×33㎝

Q. Regarding spread in your paintings, grass, waves and breeze work to great effects within people in nature.
A. Spreading is one of the most appealing ways of expression on hanji. Hanji is made of paper mulberry and it goes well with water. When I draw trees and bodies of water, I use spread effects. The way paint spreads along the grains of hanji gives those objects quite the natural feel. I rarely do sketches because I had to adjust the size of houses and people and spacing between them depending on the natural spread of paints.

Q. What are you most worried about when you paint?
A. I keep going back to if I am really telling the story I want to tell, if I am sticking to my style, if I am making the most out of materials at hands, and if the painting is relevant.

Conversation_2022_ink-wash on hanji _33×24㎝

Conversation_2022_ink-wash on hanji _33×24㎝

Traveling, Capturing Landscape

Q. What has been your most memorable trip?
A. I remember being pleasantly surprised when I went to Los Angeles for the first time. It seemed like palm trees soared through the vast, wide open skies, and it was quite a sight. As I was walking around exotic trees and plants filling spaces between buildings, I felt a satisfying sense of balance. I was happy to experience the kind of vast land that we don’t see in Seoul and enjoy LA’s unique sensibilities.

Q. This exhibition featured exotic landscapes and people in nature. Were you inspired by particular areas or cities?
A. I draw inspiration from many different places and I try to combine their landscapes internally. It’s difficult to pick one specific spot, but I take cues from Los Angeles or small European beaches. I recently traveled to Hawaii and I’ve been trying to incorporate Hawaiian landscape into paintings I am working on.

Beads in the Green_2022_ink-wash on hanji _24×33㎝

Q. Is there any destination you’d like to visit or landscape you’d like to draw? And why?
A. I enjoy places where it feels like people have blended in with natural surroundings.  I want to feel the healthy vibes from vivid landscapes of warm countries and their people. It’d be nice to stay in a vibrant, peaceful and charming little place and do the sketching.

Q. Have you thought about painting Busan, Jeju, or Seoul, places that are familiar with the Korean audience?
A. I never try to replicate any particular place. I’ve obviously been painting Korean landscapes, even though it may not have been all that apparent.

Jo Eun poses in front of her piece during her exhibition

Q. What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in your destination?
A. I usually look at trees. I study trees that line the road going from the airport to city center, and different types of pots. I usually try to capture the vibe of a particular place as if in a work of landscape painting, with plants, buildings and people all mingling with one another.

Q. What’s your perfect travel destination?
A. I prefer a place that allows you to drop everything and just relax. I prefer cities where you don’t necessarily have to do anything, places that offer relaxing natural surroundings and also opportunities to experience new culture. It could be a fulfilling experience where you can find new sources of inspiration or have your battery recharged.

Artist Jo Eun Instagram 
November 2022 Editor:Jung Jaewook
Cooperation: Artside Gallery

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