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(Yonhap Interview) Je Mi-young expresses Korean sensitivity in soulful collage of patchwork

2017/06/28 11:24

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By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, June 28 (Yonhap) -- Seen from afar, Je Mi-young's work looks just like a painting: Korean houses, alleys and nature are depicted in bold and vivid colors and in such great detail that capture small flower pots on roof tops, laundry hanging in the front yard, and books and curtains seen through small windows.

A closer look, however, reveals that her work is, in fact, rendered in a patchwork collage of colorful pieces of fabric on a canvas. Korean sensitivity is beautifully expressed through the country's traditional houses "hanok," two-story modern houses perched on a hilly village and various auspicious figures from folk art, known as "minhwa."

  

This image provided by artist Je Mi-young shows "Kahwa (House and Flower)" created in 2016. (Yonhap) This image provided by artist Je Mi-young shows "Kahwa (House and Flower)" created in 2016. (Yonhap)

This image provided by artist Je Mi-young shows "Kiwa House in Coming Spring." Kiwa means roof tiles in Korean. (Yonhap) This image provided by artist Je Mi-young shows "Kiwa House in Coming Spring." Kiwa means roof tiles in Korean. (Yonhap)

In an interview with Yonhap News Agency last week, the artist said she was especially fascinated by the interesting ambiance of quiet alleyways early in the morning when the world is still sleeping.

"It is so quiet and feels somewhat deserted. As a way of overcoming the sense of emptiness I feel, I express them in bright colors. It makes them lively," she said.

Instead of having people in her work, she adds as many windows as possible, some of them wide open, to hint that there are people living inside.

"Rather than delivering my message too directly, I used windows as a metaphor that the houses are full of warm people with interesting stories to tell," Je said. "A house represents those who live in it. When the window is open, it means the people inside want to connect with the world."

   By choosing intense, contrasting colors, sometimes surreally so, she adds excitement and thrill to an otherwise ordinary, familiar neighborhood.

This image provided by artist Je Mi-young shows "Kahwa (House and Flower)" created in 2017. (Yonhap) This image provided by artist Je Mi-young shows "Kahwa (House and Flower)" created in 2017. (Yonhap)

A fine arts major from a university in the port city of Busan, she went to Seoul's Hongik University again to study oriental art. The decision was only natural for her as she felt "thirsty" while studying Western art as she knew it wasn't her thing. But even after she earned her master's degree in oriental painting, she felt lost for a while, she said.

Fearful of an uncertain future and lacking confidence in her own ability, she became absorbed in needlework for years, desperately looking for her true identity as an artist. She collected pieces of cloth and sewed them in what she described as a mindless but comforting act to forget the troubles that had been dogging her.

This image provided by artist Je Mi-young shows her 2017 work "Scenery with House." (Yonhap) This image provided by artist Je Mi-young shows her 2017 work "Scenery with House." (Yonhap)

Frustrated, she one day cut the patchwork into pieces with scissors on a whim.

"Maybe I wanted to just destroy it because it didn't seem to give me an answer either," the 41-year-old said. But then, the pieces of her patchwork, which were carelessly strewn around, looked as if they were a piece of artwork.

"The whole thing came into focus and looked well-organized all of a sudden. The combination of colors looked so natural. It was amazing."

   To make the fabric pieces crisp and hard enough to be easily attached onto the canvas, she glues sheets of Korean traditional paper "hanji" behind the finished patchwork. Then she cuts it into pieces to use them as a painting material.

Her work is still quite experimental, she said, that she sometimes asks herself if she is going in the right direction as an artist and delivers her messages of happiness and well-being.

Intent on discovering a new beauty from familiar scenery, the artist expressed a simple wish: "I hope my art can comfort people and make them want to look at it for just a little bit longer."

  

South Korean artist Je Mi-young poses for a photo after an interview with Yonhap News Agency on June 23, 2017. (Yonhap) South Korean artist Je Mi-young poses for a photo after an interview with Yonhap News Agency on June 23, 2017. (Yonhap)

A close-up shot of Je Mi-young's work from 2014. (Yonhap) A close-up shot of Je Mi-young's work from 2014. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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