Black & White Gallery/Project Space is proud to present Shanghai Black by the Korean-American artist Sook Jin Jo. The works in the show are inspired by the artist's experience during her 2014 six-month residency in China at The Swatch Art Peace Hotel located in the historic Bund area of Shanghai known for its eclectic blend of architectural styles and the persistent haze that blurs the edges and distinctions of the city, like the misty clouds of a traditional Chinese landscape painting.
"Shanghai Black" is a series of assemblage paintings in Chinese ink, acrylic, and oil on found fragments and plywood. Square and rectangular boards are fitted together like a puzzle and layered with more irregularly-shaped pieces; their mismatched curved edges and projections suggest the competing strata of the city and their uneasy relationships. As in Jo's previous works, the weathered textures of discarded wooden boards and other architectural and industrial fragments evoke a history of use as well as the passage of time and function. The imperfections of their construction, along with their large sizes and dark rough surfaces, convey a brooding heaviness and a sense of loss and destruction. These remnants of modern industrial life are contrasted by the evocative ink washes and drips that recall East Asian ink painting traditions. Areas of dark black ink loom through the series like a persistent weighted cloud of soot and swirl into smoky ink stains, punctuated by rusty and bright reds and yellows.
There is something ominous in the layers of dark stains and splatters, and, yet, many of the works have openings, albeit small, in the compositions. Actual holes where boards did not quite meet, or sections where a lighter, less blemished wood grain shines through, are like bits of sun and clear sky still visible in the midst of clouds and smog.
Pairing the fluidity and transparency of ink drips and washes with the hard, used wooden boards provides an apt visualization of the contradictions of modern China, where the new is quickly displacing the old. As China has raced to modernize its cities, old wooden historic areas have been razed and wiped away with little trace, with futuristic skyscrapers left looming in their place. The organic and the natural are further obscured and degraded by the terrible pollution that adds a tangible weight to the air. The assemblages in "Shanghai Black" make that pollution and lost past palpable. - Margaret Richardson*
Born in Gwangju City, Korea in 1960, Sook Jin Jo moved to New York in 1988, where she is currently based. Her work is informed by these cross-cultural experiences. Works that incorporate found materials and respond to their spatial and cultural environments connect to broader practices in contemporary art such as assemblage and site-specificity. The use of ink painting and text evoke her early training in traditional East Asian painting and calligraphy. These references and materials are then combined to create works that uplift the spirit, engage the audience, and involve the communities in which they are made. Sook Jin Jo is a recipient of many distinguished awards, fellowships, grants and commissions. Her work is in many international private and public collections in the USA, Switzerland, Brazil, India, China, Korea, Japan and Hong Kong.
Margaret Richardson is a modern and contemporary art historian and art history professor based in Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of "Between Reality and Dream: The Aesthetic Philosophy of K.G. Subramanyan" published by Seagull Books in 2013.
Shanghai Black is Jo's second solo exhibition at Black & White Gallery/Project Space.