Jenny Cho

The Significance of a Contemporary Artist's Task of Making Paintings, 2013, Geun-jun Lim aka Chungwoo Lee

A. What and How to Paint?

1. What, when, how, where, and with whose hands to paint? When an artist can make a proper determination with regard to each of these elements, then one can become the contemporary meaning of a painter. If one makes but a single wrong decision, then—even with a MFA degree—it is possible to degenerate into an outmoded artist. Amidst the process of making each of these decisions, the allocation of the burden of modernity/contemporaneity/atemporality to the painter is in itself both the history of art and the visual culture of our contemporary era. Contemporary visual culture induces pressure not just from the horizontal axis of time. As well, the history of art is problematic not just from the vertical axis of time. (Especially in the case of Korean artists, who must study by overlapping the history of western art and the history of Japanese art with local art history, it becomes all the more complicated.)

2. However, even where one resolves every decision correctly in reaction to the horizontal and vertical axes of time, this in itself does not guarantee an end result of excellent work. In meeting the requirements of the post-medium situation, although one challenges oneself to redefine and to reinvent the act of “painting” as an aesthetically valid form, most successful cases are limited only to a discursive (re)set, thus leading to largely mediocre final results. Particularly, if one attempts a “painterly” painting that stakes everything on a “brush stroke,” the level of difficulty dramatically increases.

3. The extraordinary picture plane of “painterly” painting is normally created by tacit knowledge, such as a seasoned hand’s expertise. Thus, the quality of the final result can sharply decline whether because of insufficient preparation or management of materials and tools, improper application of innate dexterity, or hardened hands resulting from a diminished workload.

4. If a new painter has found his or her subject matter, this means that the painter has seized an ultimate subject to be processed throughout the painter’s lifetime as a specific subject, and has also grasped the most fitting material and form to express this particular subject. Although a certain politician would bellow—rather softly, nevertheless—that “form governs contents,” from an artist’s point of view, it is the opposite. That is, when the contents of a work compel its form, at last, the painter becomes a lucky individual who has discovered his or her subject matter.

5. However, locating one’s subject matter does not guarantee an even future. When one develops the subject matter within each canvas and undertakes the processes of visualization and reification, several variables arise as well. As such, the success or failure of a lifelong survival game depends on the way one responds to each variable. If one is a successful painter, then the process of developing a single sub-inquiry in the form of a series and thus unequivocally defining one’s own artistic period, and the process of properly blending and thus assembling canvases intended for museum collections, canvases intended for museum-level collectors, canvases intended for art fairs, and print editions—are all a matter of course. However, if an artist predictably follows this process, then he or she risks of becoming a mere dauber.

6. In the passage from one period that is subject to a sub-topic to the period following it, the decision of how much self-referentiality one is to embody is problematic for artists following the postmodern era. (Through self-referential art-making, renowned modernist artists in large part consistently utilized a single subject in their work. By the time they reached their final years, they attempted to direct their life as a grand epic of their own distinctive style.) When synthesizing together the various periods of an artist’s work, only where there are well-organized narrative scenes that cannot be comprehended with a mere glance can one become an artist widely embraced by a group of art critics and collectors. However, if this execution appears contrived, it is difficult to be highly regarded in one’s final assessment. If this is so, how about the case of Jenny Cho?

B. The Case of Jenny Cho

1. Jenny Cho (1985-) is an artist who appropriates the different ways of seeing as the most fitting painting style and synthesize this approach. After graduating from NYU with a degree in Studio Art in 2008, she debuted with her first solo show <In-Between> at Gana Art Gallery New York in 2009, followed by her second solo show <In-Between> at DOOSAN Gallery New York in 2011, and her third solo show <In-Between: Story of Rob Lloyd> at DOOSAN Gallery Seoul in 2013.

2. The title of “In-Between”—in other words, a “middle person” or “intermediary”—is a method that the artist advocates, and she explains it as follows:

“The habit of observing an object concentrating more on how to see, rather than on what to see lead me to study visual perception. The process I take—photographing an actual scene of different perspectives, recompose it into a Photo-relief, and then painting it—resembles a process of individual’s visual perception. Accordingly, the concepts of ‘temporality’ and ‘repetition,’ interfere in the process of rearranging the Photo-relief, and the resulting painting created in this process represents not only both the visible and the invisible, but also embrace the process ‘In-Between’ that endeavors to surpass the limitations of time and space as an integrated whole.”

3. Thus, the artist calls her method of analogously restructuring the process of visual perception and perceived image of an object and a space “In-Between,” and through this method, she paints in the role of an integrator by generating multi-layered meanings—a synthesizer of pictorial perception. Surely, although the goal of “integrated visual perception” is most likely to remain the artist’s peculiar delusion, that kind of illusory vanishing point (or impossible aim) will become a source of inspiration that arouses the artist’s painting impulse, and thus it is a harmless illusion.

4. However, the definition of a “painter who endeavors to synthesize the way a painter views an object into the most fitting painting style” is not limited only to Jenny Cho. That challenge has been attempted by a great number of modernist artists, from Paul Cézanne to Pablo Picasso of “Analytic Cubism” and “Synthetic Cubism” to a group of Futurist painters. Certainly, since Jenny Cho is a “painter who endeavors to appropriate the way a painter views an object as the most fitting painting style and to synthesize this approach,” she takes a different stand from the modernist painters who worked a century ago. However, an experiment that appropriates a historicized painting style and synthesizes painting’s methods of viewing objects is a task that David Hockney in his prime had already overcome. In that case, how is Cho’s method different from Hockney’s?

5. Hockney’s greatness in his prime can be attributed to his playful appropriation of historical painting styles; his objectification of the perspective belonging to each style that he utilized and thus considering the perspective as subject matter; and his finalizing each canvas with great virtuosity, thus creating a new epoch of the meta-“painterly”-painter who revisits the history of painting. Although he used various methods to objectify painting’s perspective as a subject of study and to rearrange this perspective, most notable of all was his division and recombination of objects using Polaroid photographs. And, in this process, his tastes for gay distinctively campy historia and minor partialism are mingled with the chastity of a celebrity community’s insider, thus completing Hockney’s own inimitable meta-style (postmodern style).

6. It is apparent that Jenny Cho was greatly inspired by David Hockney in her early working period. The Photo-relief works <AJ> and <Face Mask>, created in 2007, bring one to realize the promising artist’s desire to pay homage to Hockney’s panorama by reorganizing it into a dimension of relief; the flat painting <Homage to Hockney> conveys the artist’s ambition to study and overcome Hockney’s method.

7. In this manner, 2008’s <Double Portrait> is a triptych with a noticeably manneristic painting style which is in transition to the next endeavour. This work is the culmination of compiling photographic prints of her parents’ newly occupied house, which she photographed from multiple perspectives; reorganizing Photo-reliefs; and, through this process, synthesizing a new painting perspective. Nevertheless, as it may have been the artist’s intention to paint this work very carefully—owing to her prodigal ambition to surpass Hockney’s painting style—all sense of a “painterly” painting vanishes, and consequently, it resembles an academy painting in the style of the National Art Exhibition, or an illustration. (And yet, it possesses an anachronistic attraction.)

8. The transitional aspects of Jenny Cho’s works continue in her subsequent pieces as well: in 2008’s <Still Life>, the artist examined art history depicting the anamorphosis of an interior landscape reflected in an object made of reflective material, appropriated and reorganized the visualization method of that perspective as a Photo-relief, and then drew a final painting; in 2009’s <House, Tree, and Me>, the artist produced a triptych painting according to three perspectives examining the exterior landscape of a house, which she then reorganized using Photo-relief.

9. In 2009’s <Study of a Visual Perception on a Stage>, perhaps the work at the apex of Cho’s highly motivated approach, the artist recomposed various perspectives of a stage and mural at the Commons Gallery at New York University into a Photo-relief and integrated into a painting. On one hand, while this painting recalls Hockney’s stage work, on the other hand (though it is doubtful that this was the artist’s intention), it can be interpreted as the outcome of the artist logically grasping the illogical perspective, and thus, it is quite intriguing. (Perhaps the meaning of <Study of a Visual Perception on a Stage> is retrospection and the completion of her student days of New York University.)

10. From 2010 on, Jenny Cho has revealed an approach that is free from the constraints of any specific method; on one hand she has demonstrated an inclination to further develop Photo-relief work (not necessarily culminating in a painting) by treating it as a separate independent work (see 2010’s <Photo-relief: House of Franco Albini>); on the other hand, she has displayed a more flexible approach towards depicting a painting’s own unique perspective on the canvas, as it is modified by reorganizing reference photographs (see 2011’s <Churchyard>).

11. The appearance of this flexible attitude has resulted in the diversification of Cho’s painting style, the cases in point being 2011’s <Three Men at a Table> and <Nine Picnickers>, in which she combines layering of the figures’ gazes into a single composition. If <Three Men at a Table> is the result of Cho’s effort to recreate the exchange of gazes among the subjects in the triptych (she erased the background using black to emphasize the glances of the figures—three apartment managers in Manhattan, New York), then <Nine Picnickers> is the outcome of a process in which she gave nine picnickers cameras to photograph each other and attempted to synthesize the resulting images into a triptych landscape. (Still, the artist’s treatment of areas where she could not get consistent information from her reference sources—the empty spaces in the sky and the grassy areas—is somewhat awkward.) 

12. The distinctive characteristics of Jenny Cho’s work appears in 2013’s <Five Variations: The Corridor, Rob Lloyd, The Crowd, The Next Door, The Window Landscape> and <Suburbia: Cul-de-sac>.

12-1. In <Suburbia: Cul-de-sac>, the artist painted a wooden frame onto a round canvas; layered within the canvas, one by one, five landscapes of dead ends in a residential suburb; and inserted an anamorphosis of the landscape, similar to a convex mirror, in the center. It is a pseudo-optical painting that becomes increasingly intriguing with repeated viewing. (The painting seems to get full optical effect. Its comprehensive quality is extremely painterly.)

12-2. In contrast, <Five Variations: The Corridor, Rob Lloyd, The Crowd, The Next Door, The Window Landscape> forms a pair with <Photo-relief for Five Variations>, and features five canvases edited to connect at multiple levels. It is a “painterly” painting that has a special flavor to match each element. The gray wall in each of the five canvases is meticulously controlled to produce a value of consistent tone, texture, and weight; even the material and texture of the wooden floor (matching with the texture of the snow-covered mountain outside of the window) is recomposed to achieve high level of harmony; the directions of the gazes of the main character, Rob Lloyd, and crowd, and the directions of the gazes of the figures in the painting and crowd are designed to contrast and balance each other.

13. The latter took the leading role in the artist’s solo exhibition as an elaboration to which the artist devoted herself; the former, a cheerful work that is effortlessly and swiftly drawn, is a triumphant work, awash with sprezzatura, announcing the advent of the artist’s prime.




Geun-Jun Lim aka Chungwoo Lee is an art and design critic based in Seoul, Korea, and a founding member of D.T.Network. He has served as an assistant curator at Art Sonje, an editor of Craft and Culture Quaterly, Korea Art Research Institute/SIGONGART and Art in Culture. His numerous books include <Crazy Art Made in Korea> (2006), <SKMoMA Highlights>(2009), <This is Contemporary Art>(2009), and <How to Expand Ego like an Artist>(2011). To be published is <Contemporary Art Methodology: How do Today's art operate?>.