View all essays

Jiha Moon at Saltworks - Art in America, May 2008

by Rebecca Dimling Cochran

Jiha Moon studied both traditional Korean painting and Western painting at university in her native Korea. She furthered her knowledge of the latter in the United States, but it remains particularly telling that her early training was based in a system in which the two practices were distinctly separate. In her small- to medium-size works, she has developed a style of painting that is not so much a fusion as a harmonious layer- ing of the two traditions' distinct mark-making and leitmotifs.

Painted on handmade hanji paper that she personally selects in Korea, her compositions have incredible depth. Moon may build up as many as seven layers using ink and acrylic paint. Each application reveals not only her technical virtuosity in both Eastern and Western painting styles, but also the broad cultural vocabulary that she draws from. In the approximately 3-by-2-foot Rhetoric Channel (2008), for example, Moon begins with veils of ink washes in cloud like forms on top of which she delicately renders conventional ink drawings of peaches and peach blossoms. Over this, she strategically places rainbowlike swaths of acrylic color with a thickly loaded brush in a single Abstract Expressionist-like gestural movement. Then, she goes back into the piece again with her fine ink brush to create butterflies and to add detail to both the delicate clouds and the bold brush strokes.

Titled "No Peach Heaven:MuRungDowan," this new series of 11 works (all 2007-08) pulls many of its references from an old Korean tale. In the story, a fisherman, MuRungDowan, follows a trail of floating peach blossoms along a stream and unknowingly enters a utopian world. When he eventually returns home, he tells everyone of his experience and they follow him as he eagerly tries to rediscover this magical place. Yet the fisherman is unable to retrace his steps and his followers ruefully realize there is "no peach heaven.”

Now a resident of Georgia (the peach state), Moon is clearly searching for her own Shangri-la somewhere between her old and new home. Symbolic references to the various influences in her life fill her pages. She often cuts the paper into the shape of a modified fan before painting. Some of her works include beautifully depicted mouths, arms or ears, perhaps reflecting a sense of dislocation and a desire to be heard. Then there are symbols, such as Japanese anime figures or butterflies that resemble the Microsoft logo, that speak of commonalxities in our global society. She weaves these elements into beautiful works that require some effort to decipher, but the results are exceptionally rewarding.