Hung in a gallery on Euljiro street, Jae-ho Jung’s landscape of Euljiro merge into its surroundings as if they are meant to be. The exhibition "Spear and Heap," which runs until December 27 at Sahng-up gallery Eulji-ro, is also the first opportunity to appreciate the oil paintings of Jung, who has been working on oriental paintings. This interview discusses with the artist how he views the Euljiro district, how he feels about the media differences between oriental paintings and oil paintings, and what he is trying to pursue through the material changes.
Exhibition view of《Spear and Heap》
#About the Euljiro district
Q. This exhibition seems to be focusing on Euljiro’s redeveloping areas. What could have been your reasons for concentrating on these specific areas?
A. I once drew a large landscape looking down at Euljiro’s 4th District for the Korea Artist Prize in 2018, and after that, I thought it would be necessary to paint the area deliberately. I was generally interested in the social significance of this area, which has always conflicted, and where acute conflicts regarding redevelopment have emerged recently. Moreover, as an artist, I feel like the scenery has something like an overwhelming power. It is undermining Eulji-ro when we talk only about its social and political gravity; it has shocked me when I noticed that the history, the time, and the humane elements are all clustered in the scenery. I thought, “If I don’t draw here, where on earth should I draw?” And the rapid redevelopment of area 3 has made me more urgent to draw the landscape. I thought, “I should draw it before it disappears,” and in this exhibition, I worked only on the surrounding area of Sewoon Shopping Center.
You have named your exhibition “Spear and Heap”. Could you tell us more about how you came up with this name and the meanings behind it?
A. “Spear and Heap” is also the title of my work, and the scene of this work is captured by cropping a photo taken in Eulji-ro with a telephoto lens bought from Sewoon Shopping Center. The wood in the foreground, the roof railing behind it, and the buildings behind them, which is several tens of meters apart, were pulled together in one scene. While cutting the picture, I found it interesting that a sharp angle of the lumber was crossing the picture diagonally. So I cut it from there, and I found the heap on the back. Then I thought, “The two most critical elements of this piece are the lumber and the heap.” And all of a sudden, the sharp edges of the lumber correlated with a spear. So the title of this piece became “Spear and Heap”.
The title of this painting was used as the title of the exhibition because I thought that the ‘spear’ could contain the meaning of resistance. When the slate roof is removed as the demolition takes place, wooden frames are revealed, and all of them are broken, revealing sharp parts, which can be read as a sign of resistance. And during the demolition process, lots of 'heaps' are being produced: garbage and torn down building pieces are piled up like a low hill. I was thinking of them when I named the exhibition.
Spear and Heap, oil on canvas, 162x112cm, 2020.
If you have any memories before this area was redeveloped, could you share one of them?
I was born and raised in Gangbuk, and I used to come to this Sewoon Shopping Center when I was young. Back then, Sewoon Shopping Center was like Yongsan Electronics Shopping Center (although Yongsan Electronics Shopping Center is also outdated today), and it was like a playground for young boys. The buildings were very impressive, and if you take a taxi into the city, these Sewoon Shopping Mall buildings on your right pass by, and it looked like an SF movie. There was Asia Theater for us to watch movies, and on the second-floor deck, there was a pile of small electronics. Those were so much fun.
I have forgotten those memories, but I came back to this area as I started working on art. Previously, I drew landscape around Samil Overpass in Cheonggyecheon, and I also painted Samil Apartment in this area while working on apartment buildings. Yet, this is the first time to focus on Eulji-ro solely.
Among the younger generation, Eulji-ro is being called “Hip-jiro”, and is considered one of the representatives of “Retro vibes”, having cafés, restaurants, and shopping districts with a new ambience. I wonder what you think about this phenomenon.
It seems to have happened in just a year or two recently. There are restaurants lined up in Daelim Shopping Center and Sewoon Shopping Center, and young people come for a date and take pictures of themselves with the view of Eulji-ro in the background. It seems good to me. If this area had been defined with a single word before, now, it has a variety of aspects as the culture of different generations are mixed. It doesn’t seem to be Western, it doesn’t seem to be a capitalized franchise, and it seems good to be an indescribable place.
There seems to be a difference in perspective in that the ‘oldness’ of the area comes to the younger generations with ‘newness’, not memories.
Yes. I used to take my students to this area while teaching at University. They found it fun, but they were more surprised and shocked by how these kinds of sceneries exist.
#About work, media, and exhibitions
You have used oil paints for all of the pieces. Do you have any particular reasons for that?
I did oil painting for a while about 10 years ago. I didn’t present those works back then, but it was my first time experiencing oil paintings and I felt fun and free. But after that, I have pushed all the oil materials aside and didn’t use them. When I started this series of works, I looked into myself, searching for what I wanted to draw. I kept wanting to portray some kind of texture but it didn’t work out, so I kept changing and experimenting with the materials. Then I became to realize it would be better to use the most effective material for texture expression, so I took out the oil paint again.
Oil paint must have been suitable for you to express the texture of this district. If you would compare, what are the differences with Oriental materials?
There is a big difference in attitude. Oil painting feels more like brushing the surface. While in Oriental painting, the silhouette is sketched first and then the general balance fills in the rest, in oil painting each brushstroke becomes a matter. If it is a brick, it feels like a brick, if it is cement, it feels like cement, as if it is touching my hand directly. In the future, I think I will change the material according to the feeling that comes to me.
If there is a scenery that you like the most among the works on display, please tell us a story about it.
I like this scene of <A Place to Hear Sounds>, which was a little painstaking too. While other paintings are closed in space, this painting was intended to capture a very distant space, which was not as easy as I thought. As I tried to express the farness and deepness of the landscape, I realized that it is not just about drawing from pictures. I learned a lot from the piece.
A Place to Hear Sounds, oil on canvas, 162×112cm, 2020.
Then painting in a way that gives a general view of the landscape was meaningful to you.
Yes. Looking at my previous works, I have been fond of drawing very wide landscapes for a long time. I have been drawing wide landscapes since my debut, and I think I have a certain pleasure in looking down at the landscape. When I was young, I lived in an apartment in a mountain village, and I lived on the top floor of the mountain’s tallest apartment in the neighborhood. It seems that growing up watching the scenery throughout my childhood has also influenced me. I feel familiar and good looking down the scenery from the top.
What was your main focus during the installation process of the exhibition, and how are the location or installation method of the pieces is related to the content of the work?
Regarding the exhibition installation, the only thing planned was to create a feeling of looking at scenes by placing large paintings on the second floor. But what I found out that the space around Eulji-ro, which I painted for this exhibition, has not only the outside view but also the interior space and windows. Those elements were still in the gallery. On the first floor, a painting of a window was hung next to the window of the gallery, and coincidentally, the windows were the same size. Not to mention the fact that some of the windows on the way down from Sahng-up Gallery were painted. So, when the elements from the outside came into the gallery, I experienced the elements fit into the gallery’s interior without any sense of difference.
exhibition view, 2nd floor.
exhibition view, 1st floor.
Two Green Lines, oil on canvas, 116.7×80.2cm, 2020.
It is interesting to see the sense of unity between the paintings and the gallery revealed when the paintings of Eulji-ro were hung in the gallery.
The special point of Sahng-up Gallery Eulji-ro is how it is not designed like a typical white cube and left the space for “Eulji-ro-ness”. I think that is why the pieces fit well into the gallery.
Comparing previous works with the ones in this exhibition, what would be the changes?
Before, I focused on the meaning of the work and thought that “I should show and deliver a message through my works”. But for this exhibition, I just started with “Let’s draw a landscape of Eulji-ro.” However, merely drawing landscapes turned out to be difficult and overwhelming for me, so I kept thinking that I could not draw it properly.
Previously, it was not possible to draw an object exactly as it is, thus it was not much of an interest to draw an object accurately. However, with oil painting, when I drew lumber, the brush could express the exact lumber that I was looking at. Soon, my desire to portray objects realistically became a criterion that leads the picture into its finished form. As a result, it became important how much I could draw this place with “accurateness”. I think it was a process of trying to reach that exactness of being drawn in this way because I feel myself.
The “accurateness” seems to feel more than “realistic”.
“Realistic” is indeed included. There must be a limit in painting from a photograph since I have to overcome it while maintaining realism. I tried to focus on the painting itself rather than the external elements surrounding the painting. For example, excluding all the classical codes such as emotional elements, trends in painting, the “tough life” given with urban landscape painting, without exaggeration and correction (excluding external elements), the paintings will gain power.
Finally, we would like to ask how was your 2020, which was exceptional with the current pandemic.
This year, I had lots of online classes to lecture and fewer exhibitions at school. So, I had more time to spend in the studio and I was able to focus more on painting. That's why I was able to draw these pictures as well. I also had time to look back on my work. Recently, I created another Instagram account (@jaehojungpainting) and I have been uploading my old works (including those from my debut) in reverse order. Uploading my works on the account allows me to objectify the works, to look back at my old works and discover that “I am bringing back the things I had or tried to draw in the past.” This year has been a time for me to look back at my past.