Article by Ernela Vukaj // July 25, 2019
Jeong Hwa Min is a South Korean illustrator and painter living and working in Gerswalde, Germany. Her work focuses on studying and experimenting with light and shape, and her upcoming exhibition at Weserhalle in Berlin explores a selection of her paintings and her ever-evolving style.
The artist’s earlier work is heavy in colour and rich in characters, often resulting in an overwhelming piece that demands a closer look. The use of vivid rendering in her work cleverly masks a deeper, underlying socio-political message, giving the otherwise playful work a seedy undertone. This is especially the case in her self-published book ‘Chicken or Beef’, which earned her the Leipziger Buchmesse award in 2014. Spanning over 100 pages, the hardback is an example of Min’s masterful storytelling and explores the artist coming to terms with various aspects of life.
Min’s work has now evolved from complex scenes and storytelling to more abstract and ambiguous pieces. Since moving to the German countryside, the artist has focused on developing her technique to concentrate on expression through shape and light, and uses the physical environment and objects around her as inspiration. Her work is now more concise and minimalist and she is constantly evolving her practice. For instance, in her ‘Horizon’ (2016) series, Min experiments with airbrush and only uses straight lines and curves. The result is a body of around 50 paintings, which are reminiscent of the 20th century Cubist movement, due to the way the shadows and shapes play with each other, creating optical illusions.
As well as physical objects, Min has also named the innovative kinetic sculptures of Alexander Calder as an influence on her work. This is most evident in her books, including ‘Folds on the Horizon’ (2017) and ‘A Trick of the Light’ (2018), both of which focus on folding techniques and how these folds can change the aesthetic of her illustrations, much like this idea of embracing chance in the aesthetic of Calder’s mobile sculptures. A number of her illustrations, such as her ‘Houseplants’ (2017) series, focus on the space in between the different lines and shapes, creating the hanging mobile effect that is so integral to Calder’s work. This is even more obvious in ‘Stills #4’ (2016), where the artist literally depicts a mobile using acrylic on wood, her signature use of line and space adding movement to the painting.
One aspect that has not entirely changed throughout the development of her work, but has definitely been honed in on, is Min’s use of colour. In ‘Houseplants’ she embraces pastels and offsets them with cobalt blue and dark shadowing. In contrast, her ‘Houseplants Mono’ series consists of darker—literally and figuratively—still life studies and the counterpart to the coloured ‘Houseplants’ paintings. There are many differences in the monochrome series, such as the use of spirals and wavy lines against a pitch black background. The shapes feel less ordered and the shadowy forms loom over each other sinisterly, creating a very moody and uneasy atmosphere.
In this way, it almost seems as if Min is recapturing the seedy undertones, once so prominent in her previous work, through this new technique. Her black and white paintings seem to take you to another, more sinister dimension of her work, a dimension that was once playfully masked behind her use of complex characters and multiple storylines. Her practice is now more minimalist, but nonetheless retains the same darker motifs lurking behind the colour.