Artist Jiha Moon has little time to waste, yet she chats easily over tea in her apartment as if the deadlines for her many forthcoming exhibitions were nonexistent. She is a study in contradictions; her ebullient nature and casual airs obscure the determination of this serious young painter. Having landed in Atlanta only a year ago with husband Andy Moon-Wilson, Moon has given the studio her full attention of late. With an recent solo exhibition at Moti Hasson gallery, New York, this spring and an Atlanta premiere in January 2008 at Saltworks gallery, Moon works constantly on her paintings.
Moon was born and raised in rural South Korea and left home to pursue art studies in the United States, first at the Maryland Institute College of Art and later at the University of Iowa, where she received her MFA. The American experience was crucial for Moon – once she overcame the language barrier – as she began living the culture rather than studying it from afar.
Her earliest works drew inspiration from American Pop Art and Disney, coupled with a sharp illustrative style. A strong segment of the work consisted of family portraits, replete with emotional overtones. During her studies, Moon gradually abandoned the super-realist Western style she cultivated in Korea, only to rediscover vestiges of her native visual language after she was far removed from her homeland. She began painting fantasy landscapes in Asian styles that were populated with all varieties of pop culture figures, but also natural forms, woven in miniature throughout the scene.
Her work, which combines brush and pen, ink and acrylic, conveys all the complexities of her character and cross-cultural influences. The studio walls are pinned with large sheets of handmade Korean hanji – rice paper – on which Moon lays out elaborate Asian landscapes peppered with manga-style and cartoonish forms and figures.
Most striking is how she conflates a natural landscape idiom with surrealistic figures rendered in highly artificial, saturated colors. In ‘Secret of Swamp’ (ink and acrylic, 2004), an underwater world is populated by one-eyed, fuchsia-colored organisms that recall the dreamscape characters drawn by French master Odilon Redon (1840-1916) with a contemporary twist. Moon exploits her draftsman’s talents to make her creatures believable; her electric palette brings them up to date.
Moon’s exquisite landscapes are surprisingly charming and light-hearted despite their traditional overtones. In her eclectic mix of references, Moon strives to express the abstract sensibility of Asian landscape traditions. Her unique style is now receiving wide recognition, both in the United States and internationally. Her work is now represented in the collections of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. She will have a solo exhibition at the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2008. She is represented nationally by the Curator’s Office gallery in Washington, D.C.