Born in 1971 South Korea, CHO Yea Jae has dedicated her life and career to the continuous observation of the world around her. Through the lens of philosophy, society, culture and the environment, CHO has developed a strong sense of empathy and deep understanding of humanity.
As a self-identified citizen of the world, CHO Yea Jae showcased her first exhibition in 2000, and has since evolved into a recognizable figure at various exhibitions, Art fairs, and special events. Her work dubbed ‘Ready to open’ and ‘Transcendence’ express the simple conclusions drawn after the tortuous journeys of the mind and soul, offering free interpretation to the people who watch and feel her minimalist art works.
You were born in Busan and have always had interests in philosophy, psychology, society and the environment. Tell us about your first steps as an Artist?
Whenever I have this kind of question I always seem to have a hard time to answer it accurately to let others understand ‘my life with Art’ well enough.
It is hard to define when I took my first steps as an Artist in particular. It is a matter of how to view the meaning of the ‘Artist’. One thing I am sure of is that I always wanted to be an Artist. I have painted since I was young and always wanted to paint more. I have lived my life enjoying the arts, working in art, creating art even though my life journey didn’t let me do it easily.
My first exhibition was in 2000 in Hong Kong and since then I joined group exhibitions regularly. After overcoming many life obstacles I finally managed to become a full time Artist in 2010, having a featured exhibition in early 2011.
Koreans are known for their strong attachment to their culture and rich history; You have travelled the world, met European and American artists. How have these travels influenced your art?
I have encountered various people, cultures, histories/stories and landscapes during my many travels… I also lived in many countries throughout my life (in fact I lived half of my life overseas). What I learnt from this life journey is that each place has its own charm and colour, not only Koreans but also other people have a strong attachment to their own culture and history. All of this is part of the personal worldview of describing myself as a citizen of the world.
Whether I like it or not, my personal and cultural background are part of who I am. The use of horizontal lines in my paintings are most definitely influenced by where I come from, a place where the sky seems to merge with the sea on the distant horizon. The philosophy behind some of my paintings, many of my artistic choices are influenced by where I come from and what I experienced.
Eastern and Western civilisations are more similar than what we think. We are all interconnected. I feel that I am a fusion of both cultures and it shows through my art. I use western innovations like oil and acrylic paints on canvas to express the emotions and concepts from the East.
For instance, in another of my earlier series called ‘Earth series’, I was using acrylic colours with Korean traditional ink on canvas together with Korean linen and French cotton. The brush strokes were Korean traditional painting techniques which are very different from Western ones.
You are always looking for new techniques in your art, new textures and brushstrokes. You are concomitantly searching for more durable colours. Tell us more about your creative process?
- Painting minimal means that I must create as minimal an image as possible although I have so many things to say and draw on canvas after long tortuous journeys of my mind and soul. Procedure reducing and omitting the unnecessary sketches and colours on the imaginary canvas in my mind is a very similar act to simplify ourselves at a certain time in our lives to pursue happiness and wisdom. I believe that the ‘More minimal it is, a more philosophical view is hidden.’
- Developing new techniques, new textures, and my own brushstrokes is not only essential to having my own artistic identity but also very important to express myself the most through my Minimal Art. On top of this, I believe experimentation with durable colours and researching higher quality materials is a moral responsibility as an artist.
- Finding a balance between myself and my art is also another important element of my creative process, just as important as developing a process to get to the perfect result. For example, I love to take slow strolls in nature when I feel drained by people or by busy surroundings. Only nature can heal me completely according to my life experience. It calms me, pampers me, and relaxes my five senses. The sound of waves, the soft and tender breeze, birds flying here and there with funny sounds, the shining silvery blue sea, a green tree with crawling cats, a honey bee with its round cute hip up in the sky, flitting from flower to flower… I get energy from nature and then it will all happen automatically. Loosen up, smile in my heart, and my brain becomes relaxed. From within and then looking around, just enjoy the moment and my surroundings, and my imagination takes me further by sketching the images in my mind.
The series titled TRANSCENDENCE forced you to look into your inner life, into your oriental values and philosophical approach to life. How did this series deeply influence your art and vision of life?
My inner life led me to create my ‘Transcendence’ series first, not the other way around. While I kept on painting ‘Transcendence’ I deepened my philosophical point of view behind this series.
Philosophy, psychology, and science help me understand the world by applying logic and intellect. Ultimately, art and philosophy are more intertwined than we think. Art needs a philosophical focal point to delve deeper. Philosophy needs artistic flexibility to think and open up to the outside.
Eastern Asian philosophy, more specifically Buddhism and Confucianism, are a recurring source of inspiration for TRANSCENDENCE. There are a lot of teachings from these 2 philosophies but what I like the most are the 2 main following principles:
- Middle path (중도 中道) in Buddhism. Generally what we understand as ‘not too much and not too little’ or ‘no extremes on either side’. It is a good way to perceive this but there is another meaning: ‘the third way or view to see a thing’.
- Moderation/Golden Mean (중용 中庸) in Confucianism is a similar concept to the Middle path in Buddhism. Moderation/Golden Mean(중용 中庸) focuses on how we behave towards others with proper thoughts and respect for harmonious living, while Middle path(중도 中道) in Buddhism is more about perception of being.
Also I’d like to mention ‘HongIk Ingan(홍익인간 弘益人間) ’ in Korean philosophy (I will explain in the next question) is translated as ‘Live and work for the benefit of all mankind’. It is all about true humanity. I can say that my true hope from the ‘Ready to Open’ series got influenced by this. In the end, these 3 are all about how we live together with all beings in harmony and peace.
Your current series titled READY TO OPEN – SYMBOL OF HOPE FOR HUMANITY is a strong message to all post-COVID 19. Tell us more about the supporting message behind this latest work.
Let me begin with the genesis of Ready to Open first before talking about the series as a symbol of Hope post-COVID 19.
1.Birth story of Ready to Open
‘Ready to Open’ was born in 2010 and exhibited in 2011. It is a series of paintings that vindicate the beauty and strength of humanity seen through the prism of True Hope. This collection also reflects a personal facet: a long period in my life when I needed to feel that hope more than ever. I was holding myself up on this hope that I will be able to be myself and the owner of my life again. It took a lot of courage, countless patience, and true hope to get through this difficult time.
In ‘Ready to Open’ I concentrated on colours and texture to better express the best of myself. Each has its own purpose, its own life, the countenance of a concrete feeling. Although some paintings may appear to be similar to others, looking closely at them will bring out different nuances, each impregnated with a unique feeling.
In this series the black, grey, and white hues are meant to communicate total simplicity, giving greater prominence to lines, shapes, and textures.
- ‘Ready to Open’ as symbol of Hope for humanity post-COVID 19
I lived in Hong Kong through the epidemics of SARS in 2002 and MERS in South Korea in 2015 and I am currently living through the COVID19 pandemic.
Our lives will not be the same after this crisis, we must accept that we can not go back to the same life we had before. This is a fact. Therefore the starting point is Acceptance.
Whether we like it or not, we are all confronted by blind spots in each country/society and shadows in disregard. The beliefs we insist to hold on to a bit longer although we know these not to be true, such as a lingering attachment to past glories, false hopes in the present no longer keep us safe. This COVID19 can be seen as a wake up call for humanity, it shows us that we can no longer afford to postpone our properly evolved entry into the 21st century.
At this point it is necessary for me to elaborate on ‘HongIk Ingan (홍익인간 弘益人間)’ in Korean philosophy, it is related to my Ready to Open series. It literally translates to ‘broadly benefits humanity or devotion to human welfare’. It may also be translated as ‘Live and work for the benefit of all mankind’. It is all about humanity and how to be a true humanitarian in the world.
I hope this crisis gives us a chance to open our eyes and be aware of what is really going on in this world. Let’s not waste this precious opportunity and change for the better.
You have exhibited across Asia, in the US, in France. What is next?
I have recently been in the process of establishing a painting workshop in Spain, in the coastal city of Sitges (Barcelona area), due to the current COVID19 pandemic my plans have been delayed until the situation improves.
I am planning to have exhibitions across Europe and more particularly in Spain (Madrid & Barcelona). In this respect I am currently working on new projects for my ‘Ready to Open’ and ‘Transcendence’ series. These new works will be revealed in the next exhibitions. Not to forget about Singapore, where I would love to show my works again in a not too distant future:-)
The five words that describe best your Art?
Minimal, conceptual, modern, contrast, balance
I feel that my art belongs to the future. My works are my babies, they are part of me. Be myself & love who I am.
Supporting charities have been important to you as an artist. Tell us more there?
The benefits that we receive from society should be returned and shared in the end. I’ve looked for a way to do something good on a voluntary basis. Talent donation is what I can do at this present. Even though it is something small I am happy to have the opportunity to contribute. Sharing makes us feel good.
Where can we see some of you work online, are these for sale ?
To see all my works, you may visit my website.
Following an exhibition in Singapore Contemporary Art Fair in 2017, people from Singapore-based online platform, the Artling noticed my works and ask me to sell my works on their platform. As of today, my works can seen on the Artling just by looking for me.
Also some of my works can be purchased online on the Artsy platform in the US since my first exhibition in the Hamptons in 2018. Our US gallery is handling this for us.
Lately, Korean culture, beyond music and K-pop, is experiencing global appreciation with movies such as “Burning” (2018) and “Parasite” (2019). What thoughts does that inspire you?
I appreciate that recently Korean culture is being popular and more visible to the world. Various movements including the Korean Wave are showing different aspects of Korean culture to the outside world. I am glad for the new generations who grew up in this kind of environment where Korean culture is appreciated and recognised.
More recently with the COVID19 pandemic, not only the culture but also Korean society was revealed to the world. Our principles of life including HongIk Ingan have shown how important and valuable these are to maintain unity in this kind of crisis.
If you were to name one mentor who has inspired you in your life and path as an artist, who would that be?
Unfortunately I haven’t met any mentor in reality and tried to find one through books or media. Nietzsche’s life style, Dostoevsky’s novels, Bong JunHo and how he makes his films, Buddha’s original lessons, and so on…. I do not have unconditional admiration for anyone or any artist. I respect some of their works or part of their life, or concept/message they convey to others.
Some artist’s life stories amuse me and make me think that if it happened to me what would I do. Trying to put myself in their shoes and think further. For example, in the last a few years Van Gogh’s works were interpreted as digital art as his crows fly to the sky (actual ceiling of the exhibition area) in yellow fields and so on… if Van Gogh saw this, would he like it?