Good art needs no translation. Jersey City resident Yeon-Jin Yang, who came to the U.S. in 2003 from Korea, may have occasional difficulty with English vocabulary, but when asked about her paintings, she’ll most likely answer that she prefers the audience interpret each piece for themselves.
Yang’s exhibit, Hide & Seek, is currently on display at Sawadee Thai, 137 Newark Ave., in downtown Jersey City’s restaurant row, where her work will be shown through Aug. 31.
Named for one of the pieces on display, the exhibition is Yang’s first solo show composed of her oil paintings depicting nature, familiar forms and figures, and abstract shapes and colors.
Of the elements comprising Yang’s work, the color composition is the most striking. In works such as “Hide & Seek,” vibrant greens and blues stand out against sunny yellows while others, such as “Cross,” are wrought with darker shapes and starker contrasts.
With so much dynamic color predominantly dancing about the canvas, it’s tempting to ask the age-old question as to which Yang prefers, but she is hard-pressed to say.
“My favorite color?” Yang contemplates for a long moment, only to realize, “Actually, I love all of them equally.”
One of her pieces depicts a mysterious “blue figure,” but as is her way with all her artwork, Yang prefers to leave the interpretation to whatever wonders her audience can see within it – like an inkblot test with a grander design and significantly more colorful.
Pure blacks and whites are absent from her work, creating a world that only needs them to create varying shades of colors, which seems to mirror Yang’s passionate and cheerful disposition as well as the inspired intensity of her outlook on the world.
“I think that [while] painting, I actually really concentrate on colors,” she says, as she continues to describe the blue figure as an example. “A lot of blues there, and there’s some light in the background coming through it. It’s kind of abstract,” she explains, adding that some people see it as light, and some as water.
Yang enjoys the speculation and interpretation, and she believes each piece is locked inside her and she merely gives it form – even if she declines to define that form herself.
“When I make the colors, something is in there and I fill it,” Yang says, describing her audience as the key, “finding a plot to the painting.”
The artist, who graduated from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan last year with a bachelor of fine arts, explains, “Sometimes, I make some kind of form or figure, and even though there’s a figure, you can find a lot of things [that it could be]. A lot of possibility is there, so you can figure it out. You can [interpretively] build your own painting.”
And she believes that what viewers take away from seeing her art belongs to them, emphasizing, “My paintings are not mine,” as she explains that she paints for her audience, not for herself.
Long way from home
With her family back home in Seoul, Korea, Yang came to the U.S. to study art after checking out schools and their programs on the Internet and being accepted at the School of Visual Arts. Back in Seoul, Yang had her older sister and brother, but here, says, “Sometimes, I feel really, really lonely.”
Though her aunt and uncle live in Warren, Yang’s only company in her downtown Jersey City home is her Yorkshire terrier, Coco.
She misses her mother’s food, as well as the people and nature of her native country, but her dog makes her feel at home here. “He’s my family right now.”
Back home, she made clothing and other things with her mother, and now, she takes comfort in her day job, dog walking, which she enjoys.
Sometimes, she walks for hours around her neighborhood.
And when her neighbor and owner of Sawadee Thai asked to see her work, she was excited for the opportunity to show her work to the audience she believes it belongs to.
Yang’s perspective on being so far away from home in a different land mirrors her perspective on creating art.
“I like it because, honestly, I can be really free, and I can be totally different,” she says. “It’s almost an adventure all of the time.”
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