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[Herald Interview] Yi Yi Jeong-eun sings praises of nature through layers of oil painting

By Park Yuna

Published : Dec. 4, 2023 - 16:03

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"There, Midday Rainbow" by Yi Yi Jeong-eun (Courtesy of the artist and Ora-Ora)

Upon opening the door to her studio, one is overwhelmed by the plethora of oil paintings – both visually and olfactorily. In a room where Yi Yi Jeong-eun dries her paintings are oil paint tubes stacked in rows and wafting with their smell.

Painter Yi Yi moved her studio to a four-bedroom apartment -- where she also resides -- in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province about a year ago. She wanted to find a bigger place where she can separate where she dries her oil paintings, from where she stores and paints them.

“This is the best place for me. I rarely meet people. I love spending a whole day here painting, listening to music, without knowing what is going on outside. This place is so peaceful for me,” Yi Yi said on Nov. 22 at her studio as "Clair de Lune" by the French composer Claude Debussy was filling the air from the speakers.

Yi Yi Jeong-eun layers oil paint on the canvas. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) Yi Yi Jeong-eun layers oil paint on the canvas. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

She layers oil paint over and over on the canvas, giving the work an impact of mixing colors as well as a sculptural aspect. Although oil paint dries slowly compared to acrylic paint, she has stuck with oil-based colors, as they are more suitable for blending color when layering them on a canvas. Half-dried clusters of oil paint are placed on a shelf after she experiments with color blending and timing how long it takes for the paint to dry fully.

The artist found herself being most stimulated by nature – especially the moments when the sun sets and rises.

“I think it is when people see the sunset or sunrise when one feels alive. We live the same day repeatedly, but at the moment when the sun rises or goes down, things seem to look different and we also feel different about the day,” Yi Yi said.

Artist Yi Yi Jeong-eun (Courtesy of the artist and Ora-Ora) Artist Yi Yi Jeong-eun (Courtesy of the artist and Ora-Ora)

She began painting nature-inspired oil paintings in 2014, which was eight years after she realized how nature could be so powerful, when visiting a district called Cheoram, in the Taebaeksan mountain range of Gangwon Province. The town used to be famous as a coal mining town, when the coal business was booming in the 1960s and 1970s.

“I was kind of scared when I first visited the place because it was so dark, and it seemed there was nothing I could do. It was the first time I admitted to myself that I am part of nature and just a helpless human being in front of nature,” she said.

These experiences from nature led her to change her painting in terms of style and subject matter. Before she turned her eyes to nature, she used to paint products at supermarkets such as stacks of boxes, presenting the pervasive landscape of the commercial world.

"There, Breaking through the Ground" by Yi Yi Joeng-eun (Courtesy of the artist and Ora-Ora)

Yi Yi’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong is titled “Alive, Alive, Oh!” at Ora-Ora, running through Dec. 10. The words come from the Irish folk song, "Molly Malone." The exhibition includes more than 15 new oil paintings through which she celebrates the beauty of nature.

Her paintings are abstract, but seen closely, one may find forms such as a rainbow, apartment, flower or trees. She is planning more exhibitions at home and abroad next year.

“You may see things in the paintings that you have in your mind,” she said.

Born in 1977, Yi Yi received her bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Seoul National University in 2005, and her master’s from the same university in 2009. She is currently based in Suwon and Seoul.