Hyperallergic, September 2014

In Survey of Southern Art, Place Is the Space

by Rob Colvin, September 5, 2014

CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee — Jiha Moon was one of several artists the critic John Yau would like to have seen at the Whitney Biennial this year and didn’t. She was curated, instead, by Nandini Makrandi, at the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga. On view now is the third regional invitational the museum has hosted to feature significant works being made in its proximity. The artists are Jan Chanoweth, Alicia Henry, Phillip Andrew Lewis, Jiha Moon, Jeffrey Morton, Greg Pond, Martha Whittington, and Jered Sprecher.

Why do people like “foreign stuff” so much, Moon asks in her artist statement — and doesn’t necessarily answer for me in her work. In fact, people like me could easily be the subject of her work because I’m trapped in her question, helplessly liking the foreign things her art blends so fluidly. In “Masqueraders” (2013), for example, R2-D2 from Star Wars is in the lower right, amidst clouds you might find in a Japanese woodblock print from the Edo period. R2-D2 is hiding behind geometric ornamentation, but with less guile than the Angry Bird to the upper left wearing a Mexican wrestling mask. This ink, acrylic, and embroidery patch piece on Korean Hanji paper (at 36 inches tall by 65 wide), with holes cut out that work as watchful eyes, is one of six unframed paintings installed directly on the wall, orbiting her intricate installation of goofball ceramics that allude to anything from Georgia peaches to bonsai trees.

These collisions of cultural artifacts threaten the viewer’s own sense of place. It’s dizzying to jump through time and space this way. We’re adrift. Locating the self is more easily done with iPhone apps than, say, introspection, guided only by the coordinates of memory. Even before the days of ‘personal computing,’ novelist Walker Percy was asking why it is possible, in ten minutes, to know more about Crab Nebula, which is several thousand light years away, than to know about yourself.

Landscape painter Jeffery Morton studies displacement, but from the outside in. He was born in Pennsylvania, where he still visits his parents, and spent time painting in Japan. He now teaches on Lookout Mountain, Georgia, where the Confederate army once lost to Union forces partly because canons can’t shoot downhill. The subject he paints, obsessively, is the Kudzu vine (also called Japanese arrowroot), which was introduced to the United States through Philadelphia in 1876, and has now overtaken the South. He draws it meticulously from direct observation, recreates it in square format paintings, and lets it flow gesturally in charcoal on paper. Morton seeks a place for himself in this weird land, assuming one is there. “Oxygen” (2014), an oil on canvas, 36 inches square, is a silent combat that ends up parsing the impossible, a few thousand Kudzu leaves pulled into an atmospheric space, within which the artist can move and breathe.

Phillip Andrew Lewis was once trapped in a cult, living in an unmarked building for two years. Verbal commands now shout from the museum’s darkened room where his 19 minute video piece “Columns” (2013) focuses on twelve boys from an ROTC drill team getting bossed about. From 1989 to 1991, Lewis was unwillingly placed in the Synanon experimental rehabilitation program where mental manipulation and alarming abuse – such as sensory deprivation – keep the “patients” in order. The twelve boys in “Columns,” in undergoing their own real life military training, parallel the past life of Lewis and his peers. They aren’t acting. By virtue of this, the video triggers competing impulses in the viewer; one wishes for the boys to break free of what appears to be an oppressive authority, while the other recognizes their own self-assigned goals to become choreographed in perfect symmetry. Placing our own third-party judgment on the events at hand is troublesome and uncomfortable, which makes the work resonate longer in the mind.

The work of Jered Sprecher is the most difficult for me, so much so I once invited myself into his studios in Knoxville, Tennessee to investigate the matter. Several works I saw then now hang on the museum’s walls, accompanied by a new piece so large and intense, and so full of punches, I had to take it in rounds. “A Plane is a Pocket in the Corners of the Mind” (2014) is 8 feet tall and 20 feet wide. What keeps me on edge with his work is a kind visual freedom I’d otherwise dismiss as arbitrariness, as if it’s turtles all the way down, an infinite regress of contingencies. Is that the way the world is? But the work — all of it and at every scale — is persistent in impact, leaving me with the impression that what I think and how I think, about what it is I see, is beside the point. This I believe is what happens in the presence of challenging art. And I think I like it. Maybe Jiha Moon, who has known Sprecher since graduate school, would say it’s me just liking foreign stuff.

The Third Hunter Invitational continues at the Hunter Museum of American Art (10 Bluff View Ave, Chattanooga) through October 19.


Blouin Art Info, Febrary 2014

23 Questions for Painter and Knick-Knack Collector Jiha Moon

by Ashton Cooper, February 10, 2014

Name: Jiha Moon
Age: 40
Occupation: Artist
City/Neighborhood: Atlanta, Georgia

The title of your show at Ryan Lee Gallery is “Jiha Moon: Foreign Love Too.” Where did that title come from?

The body of work for my solo show with Ryan Lee Gallery is a continuation of my work from my solo show “Foreign Love,” which is now at the Weatherspoon Art Museum in North Carolina. It originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. As a foreigner living in the States myself, I often think about what authenticity really means and I think we often misunderstand it. The title is from this idea of how we often fall in love with what we think of as foreign or exotic to us.

For that show you also created ceramic objects for the first time. What was it like working in a new medium? What techniques did you use?

Clay is something that I have always been attracted to and wanted to try. Ceramic has a long history connecting East and West. As an Asian American artist, this is such a rich area to explore and to research. I actually enjoy the unexpected and uncontrollable process of kiln works. Not everything comes out perfectly, but I’ve learned what to expect from this process.

I have been exploring the idea of Asian blue and white ceramic, celadon and crackle glazes that people easily associate with Asian ceramic works. For example, I put together some old pine trees and Angry Birds as part of a landscape drawing in the manner of blue and white style on ceramic.

Also, learning how to do things in a ceramic studio, I purposefully make pots and vases non-functional. I’ve learned that many ceramicists often distinguish between functional and decorative work. As a painter this notion was a bit harder to accept, and I started making ceramic works that look like they are broken. However, these works were built perfectly and sliced and put together before they went to the kiln. Nothing was broken but they are meant to look that way. My ceramic work has influenced my own painting work as I work back and forth between two studios.

Your show at the Weatherspoon Art Museum recently opened and you just had a solo exhibition at MOCA Georgia. How does it feel to be getting that kind of institutional recognition?

I was in an important museum group show called “One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now” at Asia Society in 2006, which Melissa Chiu curated; at the Drawing Center in New York in 2008; and had a solo show at the CUNY Graduate Center that was curated by Katherine Carl. I moved to Atlanta in 2006 from Washington, D.C. and have lived here ever since. Atlanta is the city that I have lived in the longest except for my hometown, Daegu, South Korea, where I grew up. It is such privilege to be recognized and have several museum shows in the South in America.

What project are you working on now?

I am working on new paintings and ceramics for shows at the McNay Museum in San Antonio and for the National Academy Museum in New York.

What’s the last show that you saw?

Rashid Johnson’s “Message to Our Folks” at the High Museum in Atlanta.

What’s the last show that surprised you? Why?

I loved Rashid Johnson’s show. The way he handles the subject and material are very specific and at the same time touching broader and bigger cultures and audiences.

Describe a typical day in your life as an artist.

I am an artist and I am also a mother and a wife who is multi-tasking many things at the same time. I get up, check my email, social networks, news from here and Korea online, and go to my studio by 11 a.m. I work in my studio until I pick up my son at his school around 5 p.m., and then come home and cook dinner for my family and spend time with them. After my son goes to bed, I do some correspondence or other business-related work on the computer. If I am not too tired I often go back to my studio by 9 or 10 p.m. and work until I go to bed.

Do you make a living off your art?

Yes, so far.

What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?

Hanji — it’s Korean Mulberry paper. I buy a year’s supply when I visit Korea.

Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?

Everywhere! I read labels and take pictures of logos on products at farmer’s markets and grocery stores. I am a sponge and observe everything and adopt things into my work. I image Google things all the time, and search words in different languages and read Wikipedia pages constantly. I read articles just as much as digging through art books or going to galleries or museums. Any of these can be inspiring and give me ideas for my work.

Do you collect anything?

I collect many things from all over the place. I have hundreds of souvenirs and knick-knacks in my studios. I also collect art often. I try to buy what I can afford but I also have been trading with other artists who I love. My husband and I have quite a nice collection of contemporary art.

What’s the last artwork you purchased?

Last year my husband and I bought two pieces from Kansas City artist Jaimie Warren’s self-portrait series. We love her work.

What’s the first artwork you ever sold?

I sold a large oil on canvas of my grandma’s funeral painting to one of my professors at the University of Iowa when I was graduate student there.

What’s the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?

My 4-year-old son, Oliver, screamed at me, “I hate this work!” at the Dali show at High Museum and stomped his feet really loud last year. I got shocked and had to remove him from the situation immediately.

What’s your art-world pet peeve?

People who can’t focus on the conversation for a second and keep looking around at art openings. Artists who I don’t know who ask me to introduce them to my galleries at the openings. People who give me stink eyes when I bring my little son to the openings.

What’s your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?

Any Korean restaurant on Buford Highway in Atlanta, and Koreatown in Manhattan has lots of great fusion Asian/Korean restaurants and fancy bakeries for coffee and snacks.

What’s the last great book you read?

“Night Studio” by Musa Mayer. I am on and off and still reading.

What work of art do you wish you owned?

Any of Philip Guston’s later paintings.

What would you do to get it?

Dream big!

What international art destination do you most want to visit?

I would love to go to the Venice Biennale next time.

What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?

I think I am an under-appreciated artist... definitely Asian artists; any minority artist should have more opportunities to be seen and appreciated in the art world.

Who’s your favorite living artist?

Sarah Sze, Nick Cave, Do Ho Suh.

What are your hobbies?

I like cooking. There is something similar between cooking and painting.


ArtAsiaPacific, Febrary 2014


by Lilly Lampe

Questions of cultural appropriation abound in Jiha Moon’s “Foreign Love Too,” her second solo exhibition at Ryan Lee Gallery (formerly Mary Ryan Gallery) in New York. In paintings, works on paper and ceramics, pop culture, art historical references and icons from the East and West collide, often fusing into hybrid symbols. These visual signifiers become inextricably linked, indicating that when cultures meet, rather than clashing, they meld, raising complicated issues of complicity.

Moon utilizes a variety of mediums, each of which showcases different aspects of cultural melding. In her paintings, Helen Frankenthaler-esque washes are layered with cartoon characters, Dutch iconography and Chinese ink-painting marks. Peach Mask 4 (LOVE) (2014) exemplifies this, bearing a confluence of marks and icons. A piece of Korean hanji paper cut into a peach shape—a reference to Moon’s home-state of Georgia as well as a symbol of longevity in many Asian countries—forms the body of a red Chinese dragon, alongside logograms of tie-dye fabric. Though the logograms read as Chinese characters, they also resemble the letters L-O-V-E, bringing to mind the iconic Robert Indiana sculpture.

Layers of iconography compound in Moon’s work. Light blue peaches morph into Angry Birds, while blonde hair like that of a Roy Lichtenstein heroine radiates from graphic paisley shapes. Moon’s mutation of visuals reveals their malleable nature.

The eye motif is prominant in this body of work, referencing the wide-spread fetishization of eyes, especially in Asian societies. This iconography also serves to flip the gaze onto the viewer. Eyes, from reptilian to cartoonesque, adorn a range of faces. Some of the paintings have holes cut in them, enabling them to serve as masks as well. In this way Moon’s work implies that the viewer both perceives the works and is being perceived by them. Recognizing the assimilation of images, he or she is complicit in this mutable exchange.

This sense of watching and being watched is more playful in Moon’s ceramics. Peach shapes and eyes lend a variety of vases and plates personification. Her norigae series—works which take the form of a traditional Korean amulet comprising a central object, tassels and beads—is particularly complex, incorporating synthetic hair, ceramic and a variety of colorful accessories. Sarah (2013) features a large ceramic plate painted with daisies, eyeballs and a demon face. Thick dreadlocks of synthetic hair are woven throughout; an intricate knot of black hair laced with cowries and red, yellow and green beads is perched at the top. Sarah explores the cultural significance of hair—from the sophisticated bead and shell braids of Caribbean cultures to the thick, knotted dreads of hippies. It also examines the Asian desire for more Western-style coifs. Moon’s cultural appropriation, therefore, is all-inclusive, acknowledging that the manipulation of signs is in fact a pervasive global phenomenon.

Foreign Love Too is on view at Ryan Lee Gallery through March 8, 2014.

Lilly Lampe is a writer based in New York.


Arts Atl, September 2013

Review: Jiha Moon’s “tae kwon do” art ebulliently melds East, West, high and low

By Stephanie Cash, September 17, 2013

“If someone threatens you and you strike a tae kwon do pose, even if you don’t know tae kwon do, they’ll think you do because you’re Asian,” says Jiha Moon. “My work does a similar thing.”

Like many artists who create work outside their native cultures, the 40-year-old Korean-born artist incorporates elements of her original and adopted homes in complex, multivalent works rich with symbolism and intrigue. Asian motifs — peonies, fiery dragon heads and calligraphy — share space with piñatas, the Starbucks mermaid, the Tiger Balm tiger and Martha Stewart scrapbooking stickers. Birds play a big role as well, from Angry Birds, lovebirds and the “Hecho en Mexico” Aztec eagle to Audubon-worthy specimens. Moon layers materials and metaphors in order to upend stereotypes and cultural assumptions, mixing East and West, high and low, fact and fiction.

Known for her ebullient paintings on paper and fabric, she takes the same approach in an exciting new body of ceramic and mixed-media works, which share the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia’s main gallery with nine new paintings in the exhibition “Foreign Love,” on view through November 2.

The show is the culmination of Moon’s Working Artist Project fellowship, which provided her with a stipend, a studio at the Goat Farm Arts Center and a couple of assistants along the way. It gave her time and resources to deepen her practice, and to continue tackling big ideas with exquisite attention to color and form.

Before coming to the United States in 1999 to pursue an MFA at the University of Iowa, she made portraits and figurative paintings. The prevailing aesthetic among her predominantly male peers in Iowa was abstract, “pure” painting on a large scale. “I admire [Jackson] Pollock and Color Field painting, but I realized I could not be one of them,” Moon says.

It took about 10 years to develop her mature style, which was facilitated by necessity. After graduation, Moon lived in an attic with some students, including Andy Wilson — who added “Moon” to his name after they married in 2001. She had no studio and only a small table to work on, which prompted her to switch from oil and canvas to ink, fast-drying acrylic paint and paper. Hanji, a traditional fibrous paper that can take on an aged or vellum-like quality, is her favorite. She uses large single sheets or constructs configurations of shaped overlapping layers – usually the double-lobed silhouette of a Korean fan.

The largest painting on view at MOCA GA, “Yellow Wave,” took Moon more than a year to complete. At 50 by 90 inches, it comprises more than 10 fan shapes collaged together. Among the many details in the dense composition, a monk in flowing robes with a peony for a head is seated near the bottom right. Like figures in 19th-century Sublime paintings, he’s overwhelmed by the swirling landscape around him. Little slips of paper from Chinese fortune cookies are scattered across the painting as if caught in a gust of wind. Fortune cookies — a distinctly American tradition, born in California — are a perfect example of the made-up or muddled ethnic associations that are key to Moon’s work.

The artist frequently depicts masks, as in the painting “Masqueraders,” in which several float among such recurring motifs as pink-tipped peaches and expressionistic swirls of paint and Roy Lichtenstein-style brushstrokes. The piece, which will enter MOCA GA’s collection, is also adorned with peony sew-on patches, a cheap alternative to true embroidery, and a similarly low-end swatch of a Mexican peasant blouse.

Rich with detail, Moon’s works require intimacy, something the cavernous MOCA GA gallery doesn’t provide. So she played with the scale of the space, installing everything at her eye level, a bit lower than the norm, in order to mimic the sense of tallness that many Westerners experience when visiting Asian countries.

In the center of the gallery, a welcoming arrangement of four low Asian-style tables adds a homey feeling. Sitting on Oriental rugs and surrounded by floor cushions, the tables are covered with the artist’s ceramics. The installation creates a cohesive, thematically appropriate environment for the large group of sculptural objects in a way that pedestals couldn’t have, though pedestals would have allowed closer examination (visitors are not allowed onto the rugs).

Moon excels in her new medium. Her delightfully misshapen, nonfunctional vessels exude personality. Whether hand-built or thrown on a wheel, glazed glossy or matte, they’re all endearingly quirky. They reflect her affinity for “beautifully awkward” Pennsylvania Dutch crafts, which she likens to Korean folk art. One could be a pitcher, with a spout sticking straight up and an ear for a handle. Some take more conventional forms but with strange appendages.

In the manner of rock gardens, Moon has arranged the works to create little landscapes. A lumpy piece inspired by Chinese scholars’ rocks plays the role of a mountain beside a vase containing a plastic pine branch. Other ceramic works are shown on stools or wall-mounted shelves. Many of them hold fake bamboo branches, whose artificiality she heightens by painting them black, turquoise, yellow and imitation tie-dye. “Like Asians who dye their hair blond and wear blue contacts,” Moon says.

A new series of mixed-media wall works riffs on norigae, a popular souvenir and traditional Korean fashion accessory consisting of an ornament and tassel. Instead of the traditional silk rope, Moon has used synthetic hair that has been tightly braided and knotted at the top and hangs from ceramic centerpieces in braids, curls or dreads festooned with shells, beads and other ornaments. Without knowledge of their Korean origins, the pieces elicit associations with African, South American or Native American shamanistic objects.

The work often trips up viewers’ assumptions. What I first thought was a Mexican wrestling mask is a kachina doll. A very Asian-looking dog is copied from a can of Westbrook White Thai beer, made in South Carolina. Many things are vaguely familiar, or not what they seem.

In her conflation of references, Moon touches on strange similarities among disparate cultures. Traditional Korean painters have criticized her work for its inauthenticity or deviation from convention. “But it’s not traditional Korean painting,” she has to remind them. At a show in South Korea, one visitor insisted that the imagery in a Moon work was traditional when in fact it was inspired by Pennsylvania Dutch themes. When the artist asked him to pinpoint exactly what made it Korean, he couldn’t.

The peach-shaped paintings and ceramics can be borderline hokey, perhaps because they’re too literal, or because we live in the Peach State. But Moon’s treatment of them pulls them back from the brink. They’re put to humorous use in several ceramic works: a breast-like one is lodged in the mouth of a dragon; others are stuck onto squat pots like raver buns.

Her works often bear Asian text that most viewers can’t identify. The calligraphic marks are sometimes Korean, sometimes Chinese and sometimes just characters that she makes up. Here she has repeatedly used faux-Asian-style letters to spell out the English words “love” and “like.” More explicitly, “Gook” is blazoned across a pot in loud-and-clear Google-style typeface. The slur is humorously undermined by an Angry Bird above the offending word and two peach-breast “ears.”

According to Moon, the word “gook” is not inherently negative; the slur comes from the Korean pronunciation of their word for “people” or “nation.” She compares it to the word “Yankee,” explaining, “It’s not a bad term in America, but in Korea it is very insulting to call an American ‘Yankee.’ ”

Some artists might interpret these cultural misunderstandings in a disparaging or arrogant tone, but Moon delights in them — and shows us that, indeed, there are two (or more) sides to every story.

Moon will give an artist talk at 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 17, preceded by a reception at 6:30.


Washington City Paper, December 2011

Jiha Moon Wins Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant

by Kriston Capps, Dec. 28, 2011

Atlanta–based painter Jiha Moon nabbed a $25,000 grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation—bringing a big win home for the District.

Moon doesn't live in D.C., but her work appears at Curator's Office, and her roots in the city and community run deep. In 2005, she won the $10,000 Trawick Prize, an annual award for artists in the Washington area, and garnered rave reviews for "Symbioland," a solo show that opened at Curator's just days after the award ceremony. (Here are still more.)

Her fourth solo show at Curator's Office will take place in 2012. In the meantime, Curator's Office director Andrea Pollan will be accompanying Moon to Seoul for a solo exhibition at Arario Gallery, for which Pollan has written the catalog text.

So the District still claims Moon as a favorite daughter. Elsewhere, excellent examples of her work—which span media as well as influences—have appeared at Philadelphia's Fabric Workshop and Museum and New York's Drawing Center, among national and international galleries and institutions.


Go Memphis, September 2011

Art Review: Ideas, images flow uninterrupted in Jiha Moon's 'Day for Night'

by Fredric Koeppel, September 15, 2011

"Less is more," blah blah blah, but for some artists even "more and more" is not enough. Jiha Moon's exhibition "Day for Night," at Rhodes College's Clough-Hanson Gallery through Oct. 14, shows an astonishing sense of controlled chaos in the 13 pieces that seem, despite an inherent trait of delicacy and fragility, about to burst from the bounds of their edges. The paradox -- delicacy and furious energy, airy patterns and elaborate mess -- permeates this work that manages to be delightful and perplexing without breaking apart at the seams.

Moon is a Korean-American who lives in Atlanta; she has M.A. and M.F.A. degrees from the University of Iowa. As is the case with many artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, for Moon there exists no barrier between High and Low art, between the Fine and the Popular. So these pieces, mainly ink and acrylic on hanji, a traditional Korean paper made from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree, see the addition of stickers, smiley and kitty faces, motifs from old video games, embroidered patches, fortune cookie papers, swathes of pigment the color and consistency of toothpaste.

You don't just walk past these works noting their complexity; you are compelled to spend time with each, puzzling out the layers, marveling at the baroque layering of themes, images, ideas and traditions.

Particularly intriguing is the way in which Moon juxtaposes the motifs of traditional Asian painting -- elongated mountains, sinuous dragons, crab-like chrysanthemums, fretted clouds, classical calligraphy -- with the media culture and digital references she finds so readily at hand. "Yong! Yong! Yong!" for example features beautiful, intricate patterning in cool colors around the perimeter while the interior of the piece seethes with activity, verging on abstraction, that includes clouds of tiny shiny smiley face stickers and writhing dragon tails.

In "Hideout," Moon offers passages of exquisite brushwork and dreamy washes of thinned acrylic worthy of a master as she simultaneously presents infantile "kitty" faces, smiley faces, luxuriant foliage and flowers and five fortune cookie fortunes. Are these real, or did the artist create them? One would be disconcerted to crack open a fortune cookie and read on the little strip of paper such lines as "Just tell them you are from the Moon" or "You will be forced to be bi-lingual."

It would be shortsighted to dismiss Moon's work as disheveled or muddled, as infantile and hybrid, though certainly the last two adjectives apply in the best sense. The force that obtains, actually, is the power of worldwide media in which the uninterrupted flow of information and images mixes, willy-nilly, all levels and corners of all cultures and concerns, all philosophies and sensibilities.

Want abstraction? Here it is. Want traditional Korean calligraphy and classical themes? Check. Toss in attributes of television kids shows, anime, video games and corporate logos? You got 'em. How about a hairline balance between fastidious craft and a sort of pigment galore attitude? No problem. A proclivity, as in the show's most impressive painting, "The Winds," toward a profound and exciting expression of archetypal nature myth? All you had to do was ask.


Nashville Scene, May 2011

By mashing up common cultural touchstones, South Korean-born artist Jiha Moon explores our national psyche

by Laura Hutson, May 19, 2011

Contemporary visual culture is the ultimate melting pot. It lumps together an assortment of images, slogans, brands and ideas that we unwittingly absorb until the blurred line between image and reality becomes the definition, not the regulator, of American identity. South Korean-born, Atlanta-based artist Jiha Moon navigates this chaotic system with a sophistication and familiarity that comes from a life spent straddling worlds. In her art it is possible to see the mirror image of everyday American life, crowded with ideas that swarm against each other with equal parts opposition and harmony.

Moon spoke with the Scene about how she used her experience as a navigator of contemporary culture to create the work in her exhibit at Cheekwood, Jiha Moon: Colliding Icons. She explained that in Korea there is no real cultural diversity, and everyone shares a common heritage. Upon moving to America, Moon became fascinated with finding out about the various cultures that are uniquely American, and "how one culture arrives in another country and blends in, becomes a hybrid." She was drawn to what she found in Amish markets and Korean-American grocery stores, places where race and ethnicities have become a kind of subculture under the larger umbrella of American identity.

"Big Pennsylvania Dutch Korean Painting I" exemplifies her style as harbinger of the new American identity. The painting is printed on hanji — traditional Korean paper handmade from mulberry trees — which has been cut in the shape of the handheld fans that are popular in Asian cultures. On its surface Moon has swirled Pennsylvania Dutch imagery, pop cultural signifiers and Korean text. Pennsylvania Dutch is the culture that grew around descendants of emigrants from southwestern Germany and Switzerland who settled in Pennsylvania in the 17th and 18th centuries to form a uniquely American culture — one that, as Moon described, began as a German-Swiss-Pennsylvanian hybrid, but blossomed into American tradition. In this painting, Pennsylvania Dutch symbols like the distelfink bird mingle with children's stickers, found embroideries and a sideways-smiling emoticon, and a large tie-dyed smiley face grins atop a lotus blossom. In works like this, Moon proposes that hybrid cultures are nothing new. In fact, the traditional mode of American cultures are based in such practices.

For all of its psychedelic qualities, there is an earnest cheeriness to the work. Moon does not comment on American society with a wink or an ironic detachment. She represents American culture with an enthusiasm that seems to define her as both an explorer of the world and its cartographer. Moon spoke with the exhibition's curator, Jochen Wierich, about her cross-cultural style. "I often talk about my work as cultural maps that are dealing with everyday life concerns," she said. "The images I use are commonly experienced. ... I make these icons less recognizable with many layers, and draw the audience into these weird positions where the images feel familiar, but they can't name them quickly. In this sense, the maps that I am building are more of a 'mindscape.' "

One such mindscape is "Butterfly Dream-Springfield," a long horizontal scene that incorporates ink, acrylic, fabric and embroidery patches, as if a rock had been rolled through a day in the life of an everyday American, then imprinted onto Moon's hanji paper with surreal insight. Above it all is the Chiquita banana lady, redrawn to have Georgia peaches and ocean waves tumbling out of her iconic headdress, as the MSN butterfly logo flutters among the painting's many butterflies. Among the cascades of brushstrokes you can find Marge Simpson's bouffant, and the jagged outline of Bart's silhouette. The familiar blue-and-yellow color palette transforms from atmospheric to cartoonish with the realization that the landscape painting is a representation of the Simpsons' hometown of Springfield, which has gained mythical status, and is here deconstructed and re-presented as a new definition of America. If America created its own gods, why wouldn't the Simpsons, Chiquita lady and MSN butterfly be some of the first to be sainted? And isn't it already kind of like that anyway?

These visually challenging worlds-within-worlds overpower the smaller pieces in the exhibit, which seem diminutive by comparison. The Temporary Contemporary space is difficult to curate, because it acts like a small gallery inside a large museum, and Wierich's task is a difficult one — to present work that's already as crowded as Moon's without crowding the space it inhabits. It's a good problem to have, like exhibiting Kara Walker's giant silhouettes alongside her sketches, but a problem nonetheless.

Moon makes art about America's image-laden culture that goes beyond simply combining the high with the low, the foreign with the domestic — she ignores such barriers entirely, as if they had never existed in the first place. And after sitting with her work, you might come to agree that there really isn't much difference between, say, The Simpsons and the Pennsylvania Dutch — they are both very real representations of America, presented without classification, like a forest that takes its identity from its gnarled oaks just as much as from its daisies.


New American Paintings Blog, January 2011

Atlanta: In the Studio With Jiha Moon

by Paul Boshears, January 31, 2011

Jiha Moon is an Atlanta-based painter whose gestural paintings explore fluid identities and the global movement of people and their cultures. Featured in editions editions 63, 70, and 82 of New American Paintings, Moon was recently a finalist for the Hudgens Prize, selected by jurors that include the Curator of Prints at The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Director and Curator of Exhibitions and Public Programs at The New Museum. I had the chance to visit with Moon at her studio where we discussed her recent incorporation of fabric and collage, a bold step for someone who self-identifies as “a painter’s painter.” More images, and our conversation, after the jump. —Paul Boshears, Atlanta contributor

Jiha Moon, Mystery Myo - frustration is one of the great things in what you do, 2010 | Ink and Acrylic on Hanji, 51 x 44.75 inches. Courtesy of Saltworks Gallery, Atlanta, GA.

Jiha Moon, Nabiya, 2010 | Mixed Media, Ink and Acrylic on Hanji, 41.5 x 66 inches. Courtesy of Mary Ryan Gallery, New York.

PB: You’ve described yourself as a cartographer of culture. What kinds of maps are these?
JM: The cultural maps I make explore the ways in which an image can be read in one way in one culture and have a totally different read in another culture. Translating cultural incongruities is one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking experiences I have. They happen every day. I’m not digging through a book of art history or philosophy; my work is concerned with the everyday experience. The images I use are commonly experienced, they’re everyday experiences that are familiar to anyone, but I twist them.

I make these icons less recognizable with many layers and draw the audience into these weird positions where the images feel familiar, but they can’t name it quickly. In this sense, the maps that I am building are more of a ‘mindscape.’

To discuss qualities of your brush work, the term “calligraphy” often comes up. But I think that there is something lost in translation here. In the West we tend to think of calligraphy as simply ornamental or decorative handwriting, whereas in the East Asian context one’s ability to render characters is also a means for understanding the character of the individual that has rendered them.
The ways in which I use calligraphy is fairly untraditional, actually. When someone uses black ink to write these characters, there is this strong association with “Asianness” and for that reason I try to use really strange colors instead. I don’t want my work to be seen as cultural tourism.

Jiha Moon, Rota, 2011 | Mixed media, 27.5 x 35.5 inches. Courtesy The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia.

You are starting to work now with fabric. What prompted that shift to these new materials?
My work is going toward mixed media now, but I really don’t like this term, “mixed media.” I’m really hung-up on being seen as a painter, but this can be very limiting. At the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia, I’ve been combining painting with different fabrics. Now I am incorporating a lot of collage materials in my work on paper and on canvas. I’ve historically covered panels or canvasses with Hanji (traditional Korean mulberry paper) and now I am doing the same thing with fabric. Working with these new materials has been great for me, a sort of breaking point.

I have to talk about this a bit in terms of my mark making. The lines, the colors, everything comes together as a sort of code. The strokes that are required to write certain characters then begin to dictate the way the lines that I am putting in the next layer of the work. I may start with a really gigantic, spontaneous, and fast brushstroke and then go around and outline every single thing. What’s happening here is a slowing-down of time. I may have done the initial stroke very quickly but now I am following-up very meticulously and slowly.

Jiha Moon, Alice! Alice!, 2010 | Ink & Acrylic, Fabric, Embroidery patches on Hanji, 28. 5 x30 inches. Courtesy of Saltworks Gallery, Atlanta, GA.

You often state that it is important that your work be fresh-looking. What do you mean by this?
I believe that my first brush-stroke should have the same amount of attention as the more detail-oriented and time-intensive marks. If you look at some of my mark-making, you’ll see that they are linked. The first layer is just as important as the heavy impasto area. It’s a metaphor for life also; all the layers of painting, like the phases of my life, they are all equal. There is this democratic action in my work and sometimes people don’t see that.

The labor intensity of my work isn’t necessarily obvious to the viewer because you really have to be up close and looking at it to see how intensley I’ve worked these pieces. It’s not just a bunch of pretty colors and energetic, fast brushstrokes, it’s really heavy, labor-intensive work. This is why I use paper; paper allows it to be more visible. Paper makes the work seem light. I’m trying to bring two extremes together in my work: the lightness of working on paper with heavy concepts and heavy labor. Because I love the drama of the two together. I love that about American pop culture. Pop Art is a heavy influence for me; the melodrama and emotion of it.

Jiha Moon, American Appendage, 2010 | Mixed Media, Ink and Acrylic on Hanji, 56.75 in x 37.5 inches. Courtesy of Mary Ryan Gallery, New York. Below: detail.

When you incorporate smiley face stickers into your paintings there is more going on there than simply an ironic use of a popular icon. Why icons?
Iconography is the most important layer to understanding my work because icons mean a lot in our every day lives. Everyone today has a computer or a cell phone and they employ icons to mediate the intention of the users. If you want to communicate with others, there is an icon that has to be pushed or selected in order for you to communicate. It’s everywhere, like a visual dictionary of communication.

In this way, I think of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. I use his smile a lot in my work. He can be a very humorous addition, but he’s also very misleading. A lot of the time, presupposing identification can mislead you. I might use a rainbow flag that would have a strong meaning in a Korean context, but it might also be read like it was the gay pride flag. My work is largely concerned with misreading and communication between people.

It seems like an obviously-answered question, “Why this need for tension?” But why are you so motivated to cause this drama?
I really want my work to resemble other people’s lives. Tension is this great way to celebrate everyday life. So I take cues from everyday life, like in the grocery store. For example, the little label sticker on an item. What’s so drama-inducing about a little sticker? Not much, right? But in order for us to understand it, there is a wealth of symbols and meanings and intentions that have to be understood as well and that is where the tension lies: getting clear communication. I’m trying to get you to revisit the everyday stuff and question it, reconsider the drama of everyday life, focus on the day to day.

Jiha Moon, American Halfie, 2010 | Ink and Acrylic on Hanji, 22 x 28 inches. Courtesy . Courtesy of Mary Ryan Gallery, New York.

Jiha Moon‘s recent work will be exhibited at Philadelphia’s Fabric Workshop and Museum in the exhibition New American Voices II, also featuring Jim Drain, Robert Pruitt, and Bill Smith, opening February 4. Jiha Moon was included in New American Paintings editions 63, 70, and 82.

Paul Boshears is a cultural critic based in Atlanta.


Art Forum, February 2010

Jiha Moon
664 11TH ST NW, ATLANTA GA 30318
January 23-March 6

by Rebecca Dimling Cochran

Jiha Moon's increased confidence is evident in this new series of paintings. The tension between figuration and abstraction still pervades her repeated layering of traditional Asian landscapes and gestural expressionism. But this new work seems to revel in the joy of painting, alternating thin washes of Ink with delicately rendered objects and thick impasto brushstrokes, all on Moon's favored handmade hanji paper. Collage also figures in some of the works, as when she adds paper to extend her painted surface from the rectangular picture plane or incorporates fabric appliqués, possibly an influence from her ongoing residency al The Fabric Workshop.

The South Korean-born, Atlanta-based artist still wrestles with the notion of shifting identities, particularly in our image-laden society. Pac-Man-like figures with razor sharp teeth, butterflies, and even Wonderland's Alice find their way into her peaceful landscapes with floating clouds and trees, which are interrupted and by bursts of energetic color. The work speaks of a society that not only straddles two cultures but also occupies a third – in cyberspace. Moon's professed hero Philip Guston started in 1960, “[P]ainting is impure. It is the adjustment of impurities which forces painting’s continuity. We are image-makers and image-ridden. Moon seems to have taken this to heart in her current exhIbition (titled "Blue Peony and Impure Thoughts” in Guston's honor), providing thought provoking interpretations of the multilayered and image-rich world she inhabits.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 2010

One's work is a rich polyglot: 3-D objects inspire the other

Page D12, by Catherine Fox, Feb 12th, 2010

"Painter's Argument," the title of a painting in Jiha Moon's boffo exhibition at Saltworks gallery, might also serve as a declaration of purpose.

One can admire her work as a rich polyglot of references that fuse East and West, high art and pop culture. Fundamentally, the Atlanta artist's concern is the language of painting, and she is fluent in brush stroke, color and composition.

"Yalari-Yala", for example, contains washes as liquid as watercolor, planes of matte color the consistency of poster paint, brushy impasto squiggles and fluid, elegant calligraphy. The painting is a joyful profusion of hot pink, periwinkle, indigo, hunter geen, Lilly pulitzer green and Day-Glo orange.

Moon moves effortlessly between abstraction and fuguration, flatness and depth. She has begun to add collage. She miraculously corrals all these elements into energetic but sane compositions. The artist fuses references from cartoons to colophons with similar aplomb. The delicate blue peony, a symbol of good fortune in East Asian art, coexists with toothy Pac-man figures made of colored stickers and Atlanta peaches drawn from graphics on souvenirs. It's a heady brew that argues not only for painting, but also for Moon as an artist to watch.

Creative Loafing Atlanta, February 2010

Jiha Moon’s candy coated chaos

Saltworks Gallery pops with Blue Peony and Impure Thoughts

by Deanna Sirlin, February 07, 2010

Painter Jiha Moon, who lives in Atlanta but was born in Korea, invokes the vertical composition of traditional Korean painting, but opens up her work to the most American of abstract expressionists – Jackson Pollock – and the fluidity of his drips and splatters.

Zigzags and curlicues draw the eye up through the flattened space of Moon's "Blue Peony," now on view in her solo show, Blue Peony and Impure Thoughts, at Saltworks Gallery. "Yalari-Yala" pops with hot fuchsia and a cool thalo green mixed with white to make a color you'll probably recognize from your toothpaste. A lovely dark cloud blends a clear cobalt blue skyward into the darkest of indigos. Moon flings around bold colors in her work with such abandon, the combinations can be startling.

The artist professes a love for Philip Guston. A respected abstract painter, Guston made an abrupt 180-degree turn to pictorial imagery well into his career. Large heads and eyes painted in a limited red, gray, and green palette stack up on his canvases like the cigarette butts and light bulbs found elsewhere in his work. Moon doesn't evoke Guston's style so much as his spirit. While the pieces in Blue Peony don't carry the emotional weight of Guston's oil paintings, they similarly incorporate and rework cartoons, pop-culture tidbits, and the stuff of everyday life: Tigers leap small paintings in a single bound and Astro Boy comes in for a landing.

Moon's work evokes the natural landscape as much as the cultural one. Nature for her can be angst-filled, as in "Painter's Argument" in which thunder and lightning and wind and rain blow about as false teeth clatter and smoke rises above the miasma.

Quieter is "Good Place," a small tondo rubbed black and overlaid with black, blue, or red and white cartoon-like peaches that float over the surface like little time bombs.

"Storehouse," a large installation tucked into the back of the gallery, is composed of kitschy objects culled from toy stores and gift shops. Small, fastidiously arranged objects such as Pez dispensers sit just beneath eye level on exuberant red, green, blue, yellow and pink shelves. On the floor below sit five little sacks and some balls. The whole thing is like a code key to the rest of the show. Several of her small paintings rest on the shelves as if taking refuge from the turbulent world she's created outside the nook. For the onlookers, however, Moon's paintings are delicious forays into chaos.


Burnaway, January 2010

Preview: Jiha Moon’s new solo opens Saturday at Saltworks

By Jeremy Abernathy on January 21, 2010

The imagery in Jiha Moon‘s paintings can thunder with laughter, whisper of legends long forgotten and some yet to be lived, and shed mournful tears of dripping blue and pink paint. Her new exhibition, opening at Saltworks Gallery this Saturday, January 23, from 6-9PM, is titled Blue Peony and Impure Thoughts. As Atlanta-based curator Stephanie Greene observes in her essay on the exhibition, “Traditional pink or white peonies represent luxury and wealth—the opposite of lotuses, which signify spirituality—but blue peonies don’t exist in nature.” In our interview below, the artist elaborates on her title and her influences and challenges in creating her recent work.

I wanted to interview Moon because I missed her last solo at Saltworks in 2008. (Since then, she’s shown in Washington, D.C., at the Moti Hasson Gallery in New York, and in venues as far as Seoul, South Korea.) The symbol of a peony implies an identity bound to a specific place, rooted in the soil. But choosing the unnatural color of blue shifts this identity out of its familiar context. It’s a nice metaphor for life in the increasingly global 21st century.

Q. What distinguishes your newest show from previous work? Are these “impure thoughts” more than just a theme, or will we see something different in terms of form or content?

“Impure thoughts” is from one of my favorite quotes from Philip Guston‘s essay, “Impure Thoughts: On Guston’s Abstractions.” He says ” … But painting is impure and it is the adjustment of impurities which forces painting’s continuity. We are image-makers and image-ridden.” (Guston, 1960)

I have long admired Philip Guston for not only his work but also his philosophy and attitude towards the world. Also, I have always thought about this quote whenever I hit problems in my work. It helps me … because most of my trouble begins when I think too much about the balance between abstraction and figuration … and feel too conscious about resolving the problem rather than let the work be itself.

Anyway, so I made observations over what has been going on in my recent work which is “shifting identities and the battle between abstraction and figuration.” … [That's when] I came up with the title: Blue Peony and Impure Thoughts.

… So, yes, you will notice some differences in my work in terms of how I handle paint, color, form, and paper as material compared to my previous works. … I hope these new works are more figurative [and] more abstract at the same time. I also started using the color black, which I was a bit afraid of before, as I did not want the viewer to think of Asian calligraphy too much. … But now I am ready …. I let the color take its own role for each work, whether it wants to be Asian calligraphy or not.

Q. Can you name a few specific Asian influences on your work? That is, where do you look for line, color, symbolism, or relationships between figure and ground …?

Well, I look at many things in general, in any form of art or life. I look at Korean folk art (Min-Wha), Chinese landscapes, Tao-Chi (he calls himself an individualist, as he did not want anybody to talk about his influences too much–I love his attitude!), Bada Shanren, Disney cartoons, The Simpsons, Hieronymus Bosch, national flags, commercials, pop culture, youth cultures, Japanese woodblock prints (especially Utagawa Hiroshige), Korean quilts and Bojagi, women’s art-embroidery, Renaissance etching, and sepia drawings and many more ….

Q. What should we look forward to in terms of site-specific details? What have you learned from previous installation work: for example, the collaborative work with Rachel Hayes at the Contemporary or your solo at Moti Hasson Gallery?

It is such a challenge for me to do an installation, because I am such a painter. My main focus and love is on the surface of two dimensions. But once in a while I have a project that sticks in my head wanting to be [released into] real life. For example, in the project I did in NYC, I made a 15-foot-long scroll painting, along with sculptural elements meant to be viewed from all directions … or [another example was] a collaboration with installation artist Rachel Hayes. It makes me use my senses. [It makes me] more intense and awake.

… For this installation at Saltworks, I used all my collections and artifacts from my studio. I have [wanted] to do this so bad for a long time. It is a storehouse–an idea box like a thrift store. I have been collecting these things since I started living in US. They are my source materials as well as inspirations. I think just about everyone has one of these kinds of collections at their house, even if they are not artists. Of course, I bet all artists have this in their studios … favorite postcards, correspondence, little paint boogers, and toys. I wanted to make [it] extreme and … in my own context, matching with different types of stripes, which often appear in my work. [These stripes] can be [interpreted as a] Korean traditional rainbow but also be national flags. They are sort of in between familiar and non-familiar.

Q. Take a minute to read this quotation by Radcliffe Bailey. The quote is from my interview with him last fall.

“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Radcliffe, how do we get more African Americans to come our art spaces?’ There’s a way to invite everybody. … Sometimes I drive out to Buford Highway, and I see whole different worlds out there. And when I see those worlds, I say, ‘You know what’s missing in the Atlanta art scene? The makeup of all these people.’”

If you were in the room and you heard this, what would be your response?

Well, if I was invited to some punk house (with kids fighting, dancing) or a hip-hop place, I would feel the same way. This is a country of all kinds. There is so much to experience and learn. But for me, Korean restaurants and stores on Buford Highway are sort of the tip of an iceberg, which is a bit Americanized. Cultures are quickly blending and changing, which is interesting. My work has so much Asian influence to some viewers, it but appears very Americanized to some others.

The work reveals who artists are, but doesn’t always show their ethnic [background] quickly. That’s what I am interested in. The identities are more complex and layered than what people can think of. I tell people I am a Korean when they ask me where I am from, [but it] doesn’t mean they understand me so much. “Where are you from?” can be a tricky question these days.

Art in America, May 2008

Jiha Moon at Saltworks

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 commonalities in our global society. She weaves these elements into beautiful works that require some effort to decipher, but the results are exceptionally rewarding.

Creative Loafing Charlotte, April 2008

What a feeling
Quaking the walls at the Mint

By Scott Lucas, April 02, 2008

Ever recall being told a good story of great joy or regret or sorrow, and later, on attempting a recall, you forget the entire tale except for the feeling attending the yarn? That's a Jiha Moon painting. Ethereal, luxurious, undulating, captivating, carry-you-away from yourself vivid. Hard nails run soft down your back. Can't remember what you saw, won't soon forget what you felt.

Wander the maze of galleries of the Mint Museum till you discover Turbulent Utopia, an exhibit of paintings by Jiha Moon.

"J Walk" (2005) is ink and acrylic on Hanji paper (bumpy Korean rice paper). Cobalt blue saturates the field of the painting, a painting which resembles on whole an underwater mountain range. Towering cliffs rise left and right, wrapped in green mist carried on a wet wash of salty cobalt and ultramarine blue. Crimson tendrils weave behind the clouds like spectral arteries run through the painting's translucent belly. Fine green lines loop up and drape the midsection, weeping willows springing from the crease between water-wrapped cliffs. Orange and purple fauna litter the weeping vines. Benign storm clouds rumble through the valley between the mountains' rise. Incongruous green and yellow, blue and red geometric fingers, aligned like piano keys, flow in formation, forward from the cobalt ferment at the ocean floor.

Moon's paintings are a foreign language overheard at the mall or on the street, lyrical and captivating enough to stall your walk to eavesdrop, listening without understanding a word, investing your time and culling meaning in sound alone.

"The Winds" (2007), like other recent paintings here, is less likely to incorporate lines between figures and ground, and less laden with hard-edged cartoons than those painted a few years ago. "The Winds" billows pink wisps through vertical green brush; opaque blue creatures -- sparrows and pigs and mice-like -- swim through the ultramarine and violet thicket; pale blue cumulous clouds float like silly putty pillows in bathwater, washes of gray and green bleed behind and over and into churls of watery waves. Green eels swim against the tide.

"The Winds" is simultaneously melodious and stark, fluid and reeling, a naked gypsy dancing light-footed and drunk, captured momentarily in a soon-to-be-lost graceful fugue state. Like Moon's best paintings, this one is about 3' x 3', her optimal working parameters. Within this economy of scale is a world reeling, blustery, tangled and turgid, initially inchoate. Awash with the grist for elective meaning.

Logotherapy is a psychological theory developed by Viennese psychiatrist Victor Frankl. In his seminal book Man's Search for Meaning, Frankl postulates all men's mojo is fueled by a quest for meaning. Freud figured it was sex, Jung favored a spirit and myth dynamic, and Frankl figured we all trudge through this vale in a search for life's meanings.

Jiha Moon's paintings have no immediately apparent inherent meaning for me. There is movement and color and form; thickness, taste and texture, and the occasional coherent or illusive symbol -- but no immediate decipherable meaning. There is meaning for the artist, no doubt, but not yet for me. Victor Frankl urges me on.

Moon tells us this: "I am a cartographer of cultures and an icon maker in my lucid worlds. I want to be a visual interpreter of the mixed cultural worlds of my generation." Moon is both Korean and American. She quests to interpret her generational worlds, and in so doing, she lays out a new fix on our world, her generation, our culture. Moon's declaration lies thin and flat against her paintings. The painting is where our investment begins, in finding our own meanings, or vacancy of meaning, in the image world before us.

Moon's paintings foment a pleasant discord, a tension between the merely decorative and the meatier allusions to our times and lives. Make what meaning you can. Appreciation of the work requires the sacrifice of invested time and a little surrender. A worthy and pleasant labor.

Moon's earlier paintings -- from 2005 and 2006 -- incorporate more outlines, are less ambiguous, and are more storyboard and Disney-like.

In "Sunshine Fortress" (2005), Moon tells her tale with defined lines and explicit fantasy imagery. A rainbow arcs down from top left into a translucent ultramarine eruption of mountainous plumes. A vertical red-lined waterfall rains down with a little army of rolling Pac-Man heads, tumbling with patent hungry mouths into a green linguini vortex of tangled vegetation. The wiggly green and blue lines envelope and consume, or are consumed by, the happy Pac-Man heads.

White lined red tulips, misshapen by watery currents, float through the green tangle. Cobalt blue clouds, outlined and gelatinous, float through the torpid mix as if carried by pockets of air through water. Moon has a story here with an implicit offer to make her story your own -- as long as you're willing to gaze.

This painting -- your adopted story -- is, at its least, a reprieve from whatever was stalking you before you ventured through the catacomb maze at the Mint Museum of Art. At best, it's an introduction into a once unknown and ineffable world made tangible, a gift to be carried out and coddled and perhaps incorporated into your world past the museum doors. Carla Hanzal, Contemporary Art Curator (she curated this show) and essayist, said it better: "Jiha Moon entices viewers to enter these disorienting environs -- bursting with chaos and energy -- where epic journey may take place with a turbulent new world."

What other images float through Moon's iconic vocabulary? Let's see, um, striped ribbons, translucent peaks and valleys, black orchids, miniscule seminal vesicles, crimson sheets in the wind, dragons, copper leaves aloft, cartoon eyeballs, plankton, sea grass, sinew and entrails, floating stairways, fleshy ripe peaches, winged human limbs, opaque prisms, and, floating over gallery walls through each painting, the water and clouds and wind wafting through articulated organic effluvium as solid as a morning mist.

Much grist. Start milling.

Jiha Moon: Turbulent Utopia, the most recent exhibit in the VantagePoint series, runs through July 6, 2008, in the Crist Gallery at the Mint Museum of Art, 2730 Randolph Rd. For more information, call 704-377-2000 or go to www.themintmuseums.org.


Urbancode #3, 2007

Jiha Moon

by Jessica Gorman

Korean-born artist Jiha Moon talks with urbancode magazine in advance of her upcoming solo exhibition at the Curator’s Office micro gallery. The space is located in the District at 1515 14th Street NW, suite 201. Moon’s work will be on view from September 15 – October 20, 2007.

JG: Process is often equally, if not more, fascinating than the interpretative aspects of contemporary art. What is your emotional involvement with each piece? Is there a rhythm to the preparation and creativity invested in each of your works?

JM: I often try to put together many different styles of mark making on the same page. I strive to create readable, coherent moments, which at the same time appear busy and chaotic. Emotional involvement is important for my work. Even years after completing a work, I often remember what specific thought process or emotion I went through while creating it. I engage emotionally with images, colors, concepts, forms, and especially in the difficulty of translating my thoughts into two dimensional, pictorial space. Much of the strength in my work, I later find, is in the accidental capture of moments, which reveal themselves only through later, careful development. (For the last part of your question) I usually work on three or four different projects at the same time. Whenever I find myself getting frustrated, I move on to something else. Often, the simple motions of basic material preparation, organization, or even the cleaning of my studio helps me to refresh my creativity.

JG: Would you describe the environment of your studio? Do you have any charming, kitschy rituals that you perform before beginning a new piece?

JM: My husband and I live in two-bedroom condo. I use our second bedroom as my studio, so my art is much blended into my life. I have lots of things in my studio. I have bunch of books, toys, postcards, and junk that I draw inspiration from. This is important but... I need more space to paint! I don’t really have any prescribed rituals when I begin a new piece, but I do drink lots of coffee.

JG: Surreal imagery and intense color palettes can be intimidating, but your work seems to avoid the pretense often associated with abstracted ideas or ambiguous narratives. Is the inclusion of whimsical, cartoonish elements a conscious choice meant to enable a dialogue between the work and the viewers? Or is it simply what happens when you put pigment on the paper?

JM: Much of my work focuses the cultural references evoked by specific combinations of color. I like how different styles of mark making bring different meanings based on diverse cultures. I try to work with my color choices that way. I often choose colors to work with certain associations, or based on different cultural references. For example, if I use dark green and red, Christmas-like colors, it is challenging to use them in such a way as to not evoke that mood. This thought process leads my work, melding the familiar within unfamiliar frameworks, hopefully creating a new experience for the viewers. My color choices have become much more specific now than they were a few years ago.

Well, I get a lot of cartoon-related comments from people, but I actually can’t really draw cartoons. I look at spontaneous mark making and imagine creatures or shapes quickly, solidifying a kind of Rorschach response to incidental forms in my work.

Another element navigating and changing the meaning is line. I think of the line as a leading actor in my work. It changes its character from one gesture to another. I have been deeply influenced by Korean folk art and temple painting, Renaissance sepia drawings, pop cultures and contemporary design.

JG: Do you view your work as a reflection of your life at the moment, or a fantasy apart from it?

JM: Absolutely. It is all reflective to my ideas and visions of nonsense or comical utopia, I would say, rather than fantasy.

JG: Opposites, contrary forces, extremes; they feature prominently in your work. Tension between textures, colors, surfaces, shapes and lines manifest themselves repeatedly. You’ve already described how you make this spectrum of complex relationships work for you, but what value does a piece gain from your practice of the philosophy ‘more is more?’

JM: Well, I guess my response to this question is best illustrated by my work itself. What I try to do is sort of nonsensical... like trying to put old and new imagery at the same time or being in between Heaven and Hell, or being very serious but still very funny, being very personal at the same time global. I like to think that these combinations are possible.

JG: You’ve experienced many well-deserved triumphs in recent years. As a result, your work has grown beyond the venue of the contemporary gallery, and pieces are now included the collections of several high-profile museums, among them the Hirshhorn Museum of Art & Sculpture Garden and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Does success on this level feel any different than selling your first piece?

JM: I feel very fortunate that my works are being welcomed into such prestigious collections. It feels very surreal, positive, while at the same time adds a kind of pressure to take what I do further. In that way it is very similar to selling my first work. It took a while for me to realize my work can be exchanged with money.

JG: On your website, there are images of school children touring Pleasant Purgatory at the Brain Factory gallery in Seoul, Korea. Have you found that a specific demographic is more receptive to your work?

JM: More here than in Korea I guess. Mixed and diverse cultures are more valued here, and my work needs to be read in context.

JG: Has the way you conceive of works changed now that your pieces are exposed to a much broader audience with varying levels of art education and interest?

JM: Yes, it is because I produce my work in the States, where so many different cultures coexist. I used to live in Annandale, Virginia, where large Korean and Hispanic populations in the area all mingled in American suburban culture. What can be better than that influence in my work? I think my work benefits most by being seen by as many diverse and varying people as possible, that they all somehow make sense of my work in their own languages.

JG: There has been much commentary on your work by critics and enthusiasts alike; do you care to set the record straight on any particular aspect of your art?

JM: Oh, I have gotten a couple of bad reviews along with the good. I do not expect to get only positive response to what I do. It is nerve breaking though, to put up your work and hear what people actually think about it. But I always think that a negative review is way better than no review at all, because it means that at least your work is important enough for people to talk and write about.

The New York Sun, May 2007

Weather Channels

By David Cohen, May 17, 2007

When it comes to painting, evoking the elements calls for elemental solutions. In three beautiful exhibitions in Chelsea right now, contemporary artists balance a fascination with water, clouds, and ethereal, billowing forms with audacious experimental attitudes toward traditional materials. Each body of work manifests a heightened consciousness of paint's formal properties that are appropriate to what it is depicting, in terms of liquidity or brittleness, fluency or arrest.

Another point in common between Christopher Cook, showing at Mary Ryan Gallery, fellow Englishman Richard Ballard at Robert Steele Gallery, and Jiha Moon at Moti Hasson Gallery, is that they all work on paper mounted to another support (such as canvas or aluminum) and presented unglazed. This affords lively, intriguing surfaces that subtly absorb the gaze as if it were another medium.

Ms. Moon goes for the jugular in exhilaratingly complex, brightly hued fantasy evocations of waves and clouds. This is the debut solo exhibition of the young Korean-born artist who is based in Atlanta, Ga.

Her paintings are staged collisions, both literally and culturally. A typical work is a bright cacophony, meticulously orchestrated to keep billowy forms and textures distinct. The associations are high and low, east and west, looking with equal and random enthusiasm to Pan-Asian anime effects, Old Master drawing techniques, and psychedelic pop abstraction.

"Scholar's Garden" (2007) describes a lovingly complex imaginary space in which credible perspective and ornamental flatness are fused and confused. There are deliciously jarring greens for distant and proximate verdure. Viscous, coagulating acrylic sits upon ethereal, subdued ink washes, evoking disparate senses of scale.

The smaller works are better resolved, generally, than the larger ones, and in one or two instances the use of decals seems forced and predictable. But by and large this is a debut that trumpets technical accomplishment and formal ambition. It is hard to say what, if anything, these mad landscapes mean, but they are rich and fun, inviting exploration.


The New York Sun, September 2006

Defying The Definitive

By Daniel Kunitz, September 14, 2006

To what degree does an artist's heritage inform his work? It is a particularly American question, since, no matter how deep our roots in this soil may dig, all of us have, to some degree, a multiple identity. But so what? Shouldn't an American artist be considered an artist foremost, an American as a second thought, and a hyphenated identity as an afterthought?

These are the sorts of questions implicitly — and explicitly — raised by "One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now," which opens today at Asia Society. To their credit, the team of three curators here worry these issues without over heating or spoiling the stew with dogma: In the end, they agreed that, as their wall text reads, "The artists and their work defy a definitive conception of Asian American art."

Viewers will be happy to note that the majority of the 17 contributors are artists first; they don't seem any more concerned with these questions than Irish Americans or Italian Americans or Mexican Americans, which is to say, some are and some aren't.

I can't tell you what part of his lineage got Glenn Kaino into the exhibition, but his artistic heritage, evident in "Graft" (2006), includes Damien Hirst. Made specifically for this show, the work consists of a salmon and a pig, sewn together from sharkskin and cowhide respectively, each propped in a vitrine. Conceptually, it lofts broad ideas about hybrid identities as well as our nip-and-tuck culture; visually, the two creatures have an at once cute and Frankensteinian appeal.

Only a few of the artists here work in modes that draw directly on ancestral styles — not surprisingly, they tend to be among the minority who were not born in this country. Taking cues from Chinese brush painting, Jiha Moon, who was born in Korea, makes splashily energetic paintings in ink and acrylic, which exploit ambiguous, or surreal, elements — disembodied mouths, rainbows, wispy or gestural brushstrokes-to form semiabstract canvases.

Pakistan-born Saira Wasim is the only included artist speaking in an overtly political voice. Her miniature paintings use the old Mughal style to comment on the present day — a fertile micro-genre now over a decade old. In one gouache, "New World Order" (2006), President Bush sits atop a globe composed of roiling animals, a tiny Pervez Musharraf on his lap, while a much smaller Tony Blair, grinning idiotically, shelters an infant-size Hamid Karzai.

Others employ modern techniques while referring to Asian history or culture. Among the most striking examples here is Binh Danh's "One Week's Dead #2" (2006). Originally from Vietnam, Mr. Danh reproduces pages from Life magazine's photo roster of the dead in the Vietnam War on tree leaves, using chlorophyll print and resin. It's a powerful mix of allusions: to the poet Shelley's trope of the dead as fallen leaves, to the tree of life, to the current American war. Mr. Danh wields history like a weapon. Ala Ebtekar freely mixes history with contemporary culture. For the show, he constructed a Persian-style coffeehouse, complete with benches, hookahs, pillows, and boom boxes, all painted white. On the walls hang old photographs of Iranian or Persian wrestlers; on the floor he has parked sets of removed sneakers.

Naturally, the greater proportion of artists here work in idioms that seem as international as the Internet. The ever-resourceful Jean Shin asked members of the Asian American arts community to donate sweaters and woven garments, which she then partly unraveled to create a beautiful, Web-like sculptural installation leading one simultaneously through the museum's architecture and among the connections between individuals (as represented by their clothing).

Chitra Ganesh has also created a site-specific work for this exhibition, a mural collage.Wall-sized, the piece layers tinted washes, colored plastic, and drawings of fantastic, anthropomorphic creatures. Indigo Som serves up three compelling photographs from the series "Mostly Mississippi: Chinese Restaurants of the South" (2004–06). And, though they lurk like chameleons in the urban underbrush, Kaz Oshiro's three-dimensional paintings, on acrylic and canvas, mimicking everyday objects — a trash bin, a microwave oven — once seen become instantly recognizable.

So too are Laurel Nakadate's inimitable videos. Disturbing, hilarious, sexy, tender, and brilliant, hers are some of the most accomplished videos currently being made.At 15 minutes, "I Want To Be the One To Walk in the Sun" (2006) links a number of vignettes, in which the music playing is crucial and no other sounds are heard: the artist in a Western convenience store attempting, and failing, to persuade the bearded counter man to strip with her; the artist dancing, in jeans and boots, on the porch of a white neo-Gothic house to Neil Young's "Heart of Gold," as a slight wind shakes the camera; dancing in what looks like a bordello from the old West, dressed like a tart, while a dog humps her leg; she and a notably unattractive middle-aged man stripping to their underwear and then silently directing each other to spin like tops, all to the sounds of "What About Love" by Heart.

Compared to this carnival of genres and emotions, Patty Chang's video "A Chinoiserie Out of the Old West" (no date because it remains a work in progress), wherein two people, a man and a woman, seem to take turns translating from an article by Walter Benjamin about Anna May Wong, is as airless and musty as an old schoolroom.

"One Way or Another" takes its title from a song by Blondie, and it could as easily describe the attitudes of a generation of artists whatever their ethnicity. Which is another way of saying that this show demonstrates that Asian-American art, like contemporary art in general, is, if not a mixing pot, then a cauldron abubble with highly effective potions.


New York Times, September 2006

A Mélange of Asian Roots and Shifting Identities

By Roberta Smith, September 8, 2006

I like the title of the Asia Society's latest, and possibly best, foray into contemporary art. "One Way or Another: Asian American Art Now" borrows a familiar colloquialism for go-it-alone ingenuity and persistence under pressure, not bad qualities for a young artist. The phrase is also the title of the 1978 punk standard by Blondie, and thus linked to a bouncy rant that Deborah Harry, the group's slinky lead singer, delivered with a rebellious feminist snarl.

Which relates to a signal aspect of "One Way or Another": 12 of the 17 artists are women. That is 71 percent, which some people may want to attribute to the show's all-female curatorial team. Don't bother. The quality of the work speaks for itself. Furthermore, the unusual gender imbalance seems to be merely the byproduct of the largely successful pursuit of another goal: to survey the diversity and fullness of Asian-American art today, a generation after the first waves of multiculturalism and identity politics broke across the art world in the wake of the liberation movements of the late 1960's and early 70's.

"One Way or Another" was assembled by Melissa Chiu, director of the museum and curator of contemporary Asian art at the Asia Society; Karin Higa, senior curator of art at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles; and Susette S. Min, previously a curator at the Drawing Center in SoHo and now an assistant professor of Asian-American studies and art history at the University of California, Davis.

Each of the 17 artists has at least one parent of Asian descent; with two or three exceptions, all are under 35 and have spent most or all of their lives in the United States. Their backgrounds include roots in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Iran and the Philippines, a cultural diversity so broad as to render the word Asian almost meaningless.

In the show's catalog the curators, invited guests and some of the artists ponder the role and evolution of identity politics in the art world since 1990 from what seems to be every possible angle. Cumulatively they suggest that identity is one of many factors that all artists unconsciously express and that some — especially those who are nonwhite and/or nonmale — consciously address in their work in ways that have always been hard to categorize. The show covers the waterfront in terms of mediums, while issues of identity shape-shift wildly and sometimes drop entirely from sight.

The men's efforts frequently prove that simplistic forms of identity art continue, and also tend to get bogged down in technical finesse and craft. "Elemental," an installation by Ala Ebtekar, has a familiar one-plus-one obviousness: it brings together hip-hop regalia and the furnishings of an Iranian coffeehouse, decorating the former with Persian floral patterns while whitewashing the latter.

Binh Danh, whose ancestors are Vietnamese, practices a similar kind of simple addition. In "One Week's Dead No. 1," head shots of American soldiers killed in Vietnam in a single week in 1969 (taken from Life magazine) are printed on large flat plant leaves. The hard facts overwhelm the work's fragile beauty.

Michael Arcega's "Eternal Salivation" is a large, handsome model of Noah's ark made of balsa; its hold is strung with aromatic strips of dried meat labeled with the names of birds and beasts (alligator, antelope, chicken, elk, yak, wild boar). Environmental damage, exploitation of animals and the biblical genesis of colonialism all figure in the conceptual equation here, but, again, the ideas seem tacked on.

The practice of passing as the member of another race or sex is cleverly deflected to the animal kingdom in Glenn Kaino's latest sculptures. One is a salmon sheathed in sharkskin, the other a pig sheathed in cowhide; both creatures wear a kind of well-tailored drag but also bring the Ku Klux Klan to mind.

Kaz Oshiro does something similar with his meticulously handmade ready-mades. They are in effect three-dimensional paintings that pass as banal objects: a fast-food trash bin, smudged kitchen cabinets and a small refrigerator. Other than the museum setting, the main hints at illusion are the objects' backs, where stretchers and canvas are visible.

Few of the women seem as interested in sheer physical perfection. An exception is Saira Wasim, a 31-year-old painter from Pakistan who came to the United States three years ago after being classically trained in the painting of miniatures. Her best images are exquisite political cartoons that conjure William Hogarth and sometimes borrow directly from Norman Rockwell. This is the case in "Ignorance Is Bliss," in which a group of European soldiers in 18th-century dress and a group of Muslims view each other with equal incomprehension.

In the opposite vein Indigo Som takes deadpan color photographs of Chinese restaurants in the South. While much too indebted to photographers like William Eggleston and William Christenberry, these images depict the frequent isolation of the immigrant in purely architectural terms.

Installation art is pushed in different directions by several artists. In mural-size ink drawings, Chitra Ganesh subjects the female body to mutations, exaggerations and struggles worthy of Hindu deities and enlivened with beads, glitter and colored plastic. But routine female obsessions with hair, nails and eyelashes are also evoked.

Geraldine Lau uses bits of colorful vinyl to imbue white walls with a global vastness, complete with ocean currents, weather systems and scattered land masses. Although not working in installation, Jiha Moon packs even more information into large, teeming paintings on paper, creating a sense of flux similar to that in Ms. Lau's work, but also rife with references to everything from traditional Chinese brush painting to contemporary cartoons.

Jean Shin layers wool sweaters on a wall in a cuddly color spectrum, unraveling their yarn to suggest both a network of personal relationships and a spreading diaspora of parallel lives.

As genuinely promising as much of this work is, the best efforts in "One Way or Another" are more complexly and intractably engaged with both issues and materials. This involvement is physical in Anna Sew Hoy's "Dreamcatcher," an elaborate, almost violent tangle of glazed clay, knotted rope and twisted fabric whose references to ceramics, scholar's rocks and endlessly recycled scraps of textiles mix cultures, crafts and social classes.

Mari Eastman's wryly beautiful paintings expand the cultural m?lange to include European luxury and its Asian sources. One canvas offers a loose, Dufy-like depiction of a Chinese porcelain bowl whose bird perched among peony blossoms makes it a painting in its own right. Another depicts a fountain at Versailles with sculptures of putti and exotic fish. Ms. Eastman's delirious surfaces benefit from a nervous, sometimes calligraphic brushwork and sprinkles of glitter.

Notions of luxury also figure in Mika Tajima's relatively cerebral "Extruded Plaid (Suicidal Desires)," a porous box made from layers of intersecting strips of mirror, Plexiglas and wood. Its gaudy austerity tweaks Minimalism and Russian Constructivism with allusions to disco d?cor and (in this context at least) Japanese lacquer boxes. At the exhibition's pre-opening reception on Wednesday, Ms. Tajima, who is also a musician, used this piece as a stage for a guitar performance, yielding a videotape that is to go on display next week.

Finally, three more completely performance-based works are especially compelling in their exploration of the power of women and the flexible nature of exoticism.

Patty Chang's 20-minute video, "A Chinoiserie Out of the Old West," centers on three studious individuals as they haltingly translate into English a German article about the Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong, written by someone who becomes almost comically infatuated with the subject. The translators' struggles keep the narrative tantalizingly unclear, imbuing the entire video, and the listening process, with a cloying sense of fetishization. The credits contain an insider punch line: the essay was written by the German cultural critic Walter Benjamin, whose brilliance offered no protection against his own subjectivity.

Laurel Nakadate's 15-minute video "I Wanna Be the One to Walk in the Sun" borrows its title from Cyndi Lauper's hit "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and reveals the desperation of the male gaze. Her videos document her brief, disconcerting encounters with nerdy single men she meets on the street and often accompanies, video camera in hand, to their homes.

Ms. Nakadate — who was born in Texas, grew up in Iowa and is half-Japanese — wisely works outside New York, has an instinct for harmless individuals and enforces strict rules, beginning with no touching. An even exchange of vulnerabilities ensues. She removes her shirt only if the man sheds his. If he will twirl around on cue, so will she. But her superior power is undeniable, as is the gulf of loneliness that her work opens up, a gulf in which even a modicum of self-assurance becomes exotic.

Xavier Cha, the youngest artist in the show, is represented by a slightly disappointing version of her brilliant "Horn of Plenty," the performance-sculpture that dominated her recent debut at the Chelsea gallery Taxter & Spengemann. There the piece consisted of a large wicker horn containing a cornucopia of colorful vegetables and the artist herself, invisible except for her widely spaced feet protruding among the produce. Here we get the horn, but only a cut-out color photograph of the vegetables and feet.

The saving grace is a short video documenting Ms. Cha's original version serving as a setting for performances by invited dancers, musicians and artists, and, appropriately, the meeting of a discussion group on mythology. (Starting on Tuesday a second video will show the performance that Ms. Cha, like Ms. Tajima, gave during the Wednesday night reception.)

This turns out to be enough to show how Ms. Cha has extended an ancient symbol of fecundity into her own time and space. She has also achieved an extravagant, inclusive response to Vito Acconci's "Seedbed," a gallery performance from the early 70's where the artist remained hidden under the floorboards (in onanistic solitude) and the space above remained barren.

Where there is one way, there is always another and usually several.


Washington Post, September 2005

Jiha Moon's Fantasy Island

By Jessica Dawson, September 15, 2005

Just a few days after winning the $10,000 Trawick Prize, painter Jiha Moon triumphed again with the opening of her solo show at Curator's Office last weekend. Moon's detailed ink-and-acrylic paintings on rice paper evoke fantasy worlds, ancient scroll painting and the "Hello Kitty" aisle. Lessons learned during the artist's studies in her native Korea gave her the brushwork of a skilled miniaturist. Now living in Annandale, she's supplemented her homeland's visual vocabulary with images from her adopted culture. Whether or not cute rainbows and tiny fire-breathing dragons co-exist on the same frame, every picture rewards close looking.


Washington Post, September 2005

Jiha Moon's Shining Contrasts

By Michael O'Sullivan, September 16, 2005

"SYMBIOLAND," the title of Jiha Moon's exhibition at the Curator's Office, pretty much says it all. Suggesting not just the term symbiosis, which describes an interdependent relationship between two often disparate entities, but a rough fusion of the words "symbol" and "land," the name neatly sums up several of the artist's abiding interests.

Perhaps first and foremost, Moon is fascinated by the marriage of opposites -- represented by a stew of symbols drawn both from her native Korea and from Western pop culture, and delineated in an inventory of mark-making that spans both the quick spontaneity of painterly abstraction and slow, careful drawing of the draftsman. She is also a practitioner of that most retrograde of genres, the landscape, if only the kind of landscape that shape-shifts from vaporous to cartoonish in an instant, and whose effect on the mind is as inscrutable as it is seductive.

While the show at Curator's Office is small -- the "micro-gallery" is, quite literally, someone's office -- additional works by the artist can be seen at Creative Partners Gallery in a showcase of the 10 finalists for the Trawick Prize, a contemporary art contest in its third year, and whose $10,000 best in show prize was recently awarded to Moon. Juried by Olga Viso, director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Thom Collins, director of Baltimore's Contemporary Museum; and independent curator Andrea Pollan (the curator of Curator's Office, as it happens), the Trawick Prize is a prestigious and well-deserved honor for a young artist whose work I have long admired and yet always approached with a mix of trepidation and curiosity.

Part of the reason is that Moon's works are slippery and dense. They resist easy analysis, yet hold the allure of the unknown. Like a jungle, they are overgrown with visual information: stormy cloud forms, ribbons and vinelike tendrils, branches and swirling brush strokes compete for prominence with trees and other vegetation. Rocky islands protrude from watery pools of color, along with flames, mythological beasts, PacMan figures and cutesy rainbow- and heart-shaped doodles lifted from the back of some middle school student's spiral notebook. For quasi-landscapes, they are confoundingly difficult to gain purchase on. What am I looking at? From what vantage point? And why?

That unsettling sense of mystery is deliberate, according to Moon, who abandoned her previous interest in figurative painting -- portraits being too "obvious," she says, too easy for the audience to "read" -- for the emotionally murkier territory of the psyche. While she describes her pictures as self-portraits of a kind (a not uncommon analogy for artists to make), they are also Rorschach tests of a sort, and function as much as mirrors into our souls as windows into hers.

To the extent that we recognize any of it, however, what we see is, as often as not, unpretty.

Or not conventionally pretty, at any rate. Moon's fusion of hot and cold tones, fast and slow marks, silly and serious iconography, representation and expressionism, tight lines and loose washes, flashes of volatile weather and chunks of terra firma, can add up to an explosive mix. Her art typically feels full-to-bursting, restless, busy, and sometimes seems to want to fly off the page. It can be, in a way, exhausting to look at.

Yet there is a kind of symbiosis, if not harmony, that results from this constant tension. Independent curator Lauren Ross, the former director of New York's White Columns gallery, which has shown Moon's work, writes for "Symbioland" that "the clashing of strange forces paradoxically can be familiar and comforting."

Personally, I wouldn't go that far. Nor do I think that the artist would find that description especially accurate. If she wanted her work to feel like an old armchair, I think she would have stuck with faces.

Rather, there seem to be miniature wars going on in each of Moon's pictures. Storms, explosions, bursts of smoke and energy arise right and left. Her images crackle with urgent static, beneath which the strains of sweetest music can be faintly heard.

As for what the ultimate reading of Moon's artworks may be, or what feelings they are meant to evoke, I remain convinced that, as with the language of dreams, the message is only discernable if you pay as close attention to the ugly distortion as you do to the beautiful tune.

SYMBIOLAND: WORKS BY JIHA MOON -- Through Oct. 15 at Curator's Office, 1515 14th St., Suite 201 (Metro: Dupont Circle). 202-387-1008. http://www.curatorsoffice.com. Open Wednesday-Saturday noon to 6. Free.

THE TRAWICK PRIZE: BETHESDA CONTEMPORARY ART AWARDS -- Through Sept. 30 at Creative Partners Gallery, 4600 East-West Hwy., Bethesda (Metro: Bethesda). 301-951 9441. http://www.bethesda.org/arts/trawick.htm. Open Tuesday-Saturday noon to 6. Free.