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A Story Told Through Canvas
Through 13 chapters, Kyung Jeon draws a very gloomy world.

By Sukie Park

Can paintings tell a story? In the Renaissance, stories from the Bible or mythology provided the narrative basis for most paintings. Since then, as the predominant trend in painting has changed from religion to genre painting to landscape and eventually to abstraction, the presence of a narrative of any kind seems to disappear.

Telling a story through painting is the specialty of Kyung Jeon, a Korean-American artist whose work is on view at Tina Kim Gallery in Chelsea. Her solo exhibition, entitled a story, revives this long-neglected art of using the canvas as a means to tell a story.

The exhibition is comprised of thirteen paintings, or chapters. The story begins with a boy and a girl (chapter 1), adventure (chapter 2), (ch. 3) girl flies over forest, (ch. 4) ordeals. They come across many intersections with choices to make and regrets of roads not taken (ch. 5). There are cliffs and waves (ch. 6). The girl run into maze (ch. 7). She becomes a mother (ch. 8). Nurturing a child is not easy (ch. 9). The world appears evil to a good mom (ch. 10). The danger comes back (ch. 11). Yellow monster invades (ch. 12). The world is still divided into men and women (ch. 13).

Jeon draws on rice paper mounted on canvas the fantastic gardens and a story about girl through animation arts. Fairy tale like canvas in fact contains a collection of dull and sarcastic stories of death, relationships and motherhood.

Jeon was born in Jersey City, NJ and majored in Philosophy and Studio Art at Boston College. She received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York.


Q: What inspired you to work on a story?

A: I am working within the framework of one intergenerational, overarching story.This particular segment is a prequel to another narrated series of works that have yet to be shown. The characters evolve from an interpretation of my personal experiences, which are transformed into fantasy.

The gallery space lends itself to the chronological format of my narration so that the audience can see them like oversized children’s storybook.

Q: The world you depict looks somewhat dark and tragic. Is that the world you see now?

A: The story is written painting by painting. As with most of my work, these pieces derive from my subconscious. Essentially, it is a sad love story. It begins with optimistic undertones and unravels into a tragedy.

Q: Did you intentionally make 13 chapters?

A: The number 13 is correlated with superstitious bad omens. I didn’t plan to attach the connotation, but it is fascinating that it turned out so.

Q: The story begins with ‘boy meets girl’ and ends with all boys and all girls in separate realms. What were you trying to express?

A: Chapter 13 sets the stage for the next story where the orphan boy and girl are the main characters. It asks the question: If the story of this boy and girl ends in tragedy, then will utopian all-girl and all-boy worlds work for the new characters?

Q: Is there any symbolism in your choice of colors?

A: The main female character is painted in red suggesting something bad is to come. The color red symbolizes evil and darkness for me in this context. The main male character is painted in green, which represents a natural inquisitive urge. Yellow signifies death and rebirth, while light pink and baby blue, in their softness, draw a gentle distinction between the boy and girl. 

Q: How come you use rice paper on canvas? What is the effect?

A: I developed a technique using rice paper on canvas many years ago.

At first it was an attempt to connect to my Korean roots. Now the rice paper, with its tears, wrinkles and uneven textures, has become a part of my language.

Park, Sukie, "A Story Told Through Canvas," The Korea Daily New York, September 19, A-22