No Peach Heaven

January 23, 2008 - March 8, 2008

  • Jiha Moon

Finding No Peach Heaven

Jiha Moon’s operatic paintings offer abstract journeys at high elevations, where a repertoire of billowing clouds, disorienting mist, blossoming trees, and elegant waterfalls are woven into deep pockets of sumptuous space. Small clusters of ripe peaches punctuate these scenes (in her oevre, this fruit is positively erotic), and pointing hands or laughing mouths make an occasional appearance. Like roadside markers, these elements give the viewer a reason to pause and get their bearings before continuing to follow the masterful brushstrokes that coil and expand with élan.

Working on rare handmade Hanji papers from her native Korea not only offers Moon a tremendous surface richness to expand upon (using improvisational techniques from the Surrealist playbook), but also provides a traditional terra firma on which to build her utterly contemporary point of view. Her inclusive vision embraces Tang Dynasty painting and collectable kitsch, Disney’s classic animations and DeKooning’s notion of “the slipping glimpse.” Coursing through most of Moon’s work, are thin lassoes of line, wrapping objects in playful bondage and forming trajectories of time and desire.

While visiting the artist’s studio in Atlanta this fall, she told me the story of Murungdowon, in which a fisherman follows the blossoming peach flowers along a creek until he finds himself at the entrance to a cave. Going further inside, he comes upon a utopia where there is no war and great happiness. Peach trees abound and people in silk robes care for him. Eventually, he is blindfolded and returned to his own land, where he tells everyone about his experiences. Many expeditions are undertaken to find the cave again, but they all fail, and the magical Shangri-La becomes a legend.

The title of Moon’s exhibition at Saltworks is No Peach Heaven: Murungdowon. It is both a reference to the possibility that such an idyllic place exists, and the painter’s ironic proposal that she might find it in the state of Georgia. Whether such an Arcadia is likely in the new South is a matter of debate, but what is undeniable is that Moon is painting it with more confidence and contradiction than ever.

Her new works feature bold compositions painted on centrally located fan shapes. This is a new formal device in Moon’s arsenal, and she has stretched the fan from its classic silhouette to a more horizontal proportion, recalling the film screen or picture window. Each scalloped portal sits on a monochrome field of rice paper, whose repeated patterns are made more optically elaborate by the addition of lines rendering natural phenomena with coloring book clarity. This figure-ground relationship provides Moon with increased opportunities for pictorial delight, as she establishes the firm edge between inside and outside only to playfully contradict or collapse it.

Over the Rainbow contains an abundant floating tree set within a maelstrom of deep purple, pink, and yellow gestures. Colorful clouds seep from the dark margins to the illuminated center, and cheerful bluebirds deposit red lines throughout the various territories. They seem to be surrogates for the artist herself, freely drawing in space or sitting on the fan’s upper edge and considering the picture in process. With a knowing wink to The Wizard of Oz, Moon’s painting asserts that “the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

Dear Social Climber is a provocatively titled work, dominated by a large somewhat bewildered looking bird who wears a droopy red hat with black cascading flowers. It is perhaps the most awkward and irreverent of Moon’s paintings to date, bordering on caricature. Considering the artist’s blossoming career, I would venture a guess that this curious creature is a stand-in for the collector with less than pure motives.

Other paintings including Silent Turbulence and Nahan’s Forty Winks, further examine the alignment of one bucolic world on top of another. Bamboo fronds, ripe peaches, and zigzagging roots are the protagonists no matter where you look, but depending on their treatment (simply outlined or fully realized) they shift from being the main event to the context for it.

No Peach Heaven is the exhibition’s centerpiece, a raw composite of elements from nature and culture. Moon presents the fan shape on its own here, with rows of turquoise rocks, blood red branches and dabs of thick acrylic. Three lions prance with their blow dried manes waving ceremonially, unaware that bold bright vertical stripes (suggesting flag designs or cartoon test patterns) are emerging from the sides and background to possibly threaten the bucolic order of things.

With a nimble wrist, loaded brush, and synthesizing spirit, Jiha Moon embarked on a comic road trip to find the creek that leads to the cave that reveals a legendary land of transcendent beauty. Based on her recent paintings, I’d say she found it.

-Stuart Horodner, Artistic Director at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center