A System of Looking:Vision and Interpretation in Woolga Choi’s the play series
WoolgaChoi is, by all definitions, an emerging artist in the contemporary art world. Since his education in the 1990s, Choi has been a pioneering force by introducing a unique and innovative style that remains accessible to viewers. The two paintings on display at ART MORAare part of the play series. They may be read as maps to the artist’s imagination, and his way of interpreting the world around him. He inserts objects and animals to signify events or people that have been significant in his life.
Choi utilizes forms and lines that are certainly abstract, but nevertheless legible to the common viewer: we are confronted with an intensely personal style that conveys innocence, authenticity, and accessibility, and one that invites us to look. The whimsical tone and child-like simplicity of the play series recalls the “faux naïf” (falsely naïve) style championed by French artist Paul Klee, among other Surrealist artists.While we are meant to grapple with the variable images of faces, animals, and industrial objects, these forms become part of a universal pictorial language.
For instance, there is a repetition of the idea of vision and looking.Against the light-hearted white background, this idea is manifest in forms such as light bulbs, anthropomorphized hybrid animals peering into fishbowls, and the prevalence of single eyes throughout the canvas. In addition, the lines are clean and almost never touch, which suggests that careful observation is an important part of reading this painting, and indeed, the artist’s successful reading of the world and subsequent translation onto the canvas. Each painting reveals this systematic—or possibly episodic—categorization of the artist’s experiences and demonstrates the ways in which he interacts with the world. This is clear in the small round stickers he has arranged throughout the picture. These resemble scientific specimens that have been set and submerged in a preservative chemical fluid within a glass container, meant to preserve and classify the life form or object. In the play series,fish, eyes, various candies, and other marine life forms are frozen in time in these stickers, and thus on display for us to examine.
These recent examples of Woolga Choi’s work oscillate between the past and the present, and ultimately situate themselves in our current time. Early on in his career, Choi has acknowledged his love for Surrealism, as seen in his first solo exhibition entitled “Remember for the Surrealism” at Gallery Sooro in 1979.the play seriesshows his familiarity and stylistic ties with 20th-century Surrealist artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and especially Joan Miró. Like Miró, Choi presents us with abstract forms that carry much meaning, and symbolize objects or experiences transposed directly from the artist’s imagination onto the canvas. On a contemporary scale, Choi emphasizes his internal landscape and therefore his individuality, distinguishing himself from other artists of our time.
These pictures not only provide insight into the artist’s self-conception, but also send a message about how to interpret life: that individuals may develop a system for reading the world, as our own experiences are sometimes the only way to relate to increasingly illegible and overly complex surroundings. Choi seems to tell us that we must take the time to fully read the picture in order to understand a more enriching story.
Woolga Choi was born in 1955 in Busan, Korea, and completed rigorous schooling at the competitive institutions of the École Boulle, the National Decorative Art School (1993) and the École des Beaux-Arts de Versailles (1994). He published his first collection book of paintings, “Choi Woolga,” in 1994, and further shared his artistic process by releasing his drawing diary in 2000. Choi now spends much of his time in his home country, though he has also established strong roots in New York City where he keeps his studio.
About the Author
Samantha Timm is a curator and independent art historian specializing in 19th-century British Art. She completed her MA in Art History at the University of York, England, and her BA in Art History and English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She curated displays for the exhibition Albert Moore: Of Beauty and Aesthetics at York Art Gallery in 2017, and is now the Curator at Jewel Spiegel Gallery in Englewood, New Jersey, where she manages and researches the antique and contemporary art collection and hand picks artwork for clients. Samantha’s research interests are¬ 19th-century painting, sculpture, and decorative arts, the history of fashion in painting, and the global contexts of 19th-century Academic painters. Selected publications include the catalogue Hobbies and Pastimes: Leisure Activities in the Collections at York Art Gallery (2017), and“Textiles, Textures, and Cherries: Frederic Leighton’s Mother and Child in Sumptuous Terms,” an article published for the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery (2018).
-Samantha Timm(Blackburn Museum & Art gallery Curator)