Cho Yea Jae is an artist who reflects in her artworks a philosophy of life that leads all beings to live together in harmony and peace. In her interview for The Biombo, she expresses her enthusiasm for a world where East and West meets, just like the way heaven melts with the sea on the far horizon.
1.- What meaning does Art has in your life?
Whenever I have this kind of question I always seem to have a hard time to answer it. I found myself having pressure that I should answer it right or accurately to let others understand ‘me with Art’ well enough.
I have lived my life enjoying Arts, working in Art, creating Art even though my life journey didn’t let me do it easily .
Most of all, I play with Art like a child at play. Remember when we were children and played with our favorite toys pets, ants, water on the ground and sand on the beach.. without knowing time flies, feeling hungry or thirsty .
I can not define it in particular.
One thing I am sure of is that I always wanted to paint. My works are my babies, they are part of me. I can not imagine my life without them.
2.- What influences from Korea do you reflect in your work?
It has always influenced my works in many ways, whether I like it or not. It is part of me, part of who I am now.
Let me give you some examples :
Example 1: I use horizontal compositions in my paintings, it is definitely influenced by where I come from. The sky seemed to merge into the sea, the far-off horizon.
Example 2: My ‘Transcendence’ series got influenced by the 2 main Eastern Asian philosophies (Buddhism/Confucianism) , it is part of the culture where I come from.
Example 3: ‘HongIk Ingan’ in Korean philosophy (I explained about this philosophy in the next question) is translated as ‘Live and work for the benefit of all mankind’. It is all about true humanity. I say that my true hope from my ‘Ready to Open’ series got influenced by this.
Example 4: I set up my Art studio in Sitges, Spain as I felt familiar and connected somehow with this place because I come from Busan, Korea.
The philosophy behind some of my paintings, many of the decisions I have made for my Artwork and Art related choices got influenced by where I come from and what I got experiences from.
3.- What teachings of East Asian philosophy – Buddhism and Confucianism- inspire you to create your works of art?
There are a lot of teachings from these 2 philosophies but what I like the most are the 2 following principles:
1- Middle path (중도 中道) in Buddhism. Generally how we understand it as ‘not too much and not too little’ or ‘not too extreme towards one side’. It is a good way to perceive this but there is another meaning: ‘the third way or view to see a thing’.
2- Moderation/Golden Mean (중용 中庸) in Confucianism is a similar concept to the Middle path in Buddhism. Moderation/Golden Mean(중용 中庸) is more focusing on how we behave towards others with proper thoughts and respect to live together well, while Middle path(중도 中道) in Buddhism is more about how to perceive a being.
It is necessary for me to mention about ‘HongIk Ingan’ in Korean philosophy, 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 do as a true humanitarian to the world.
In the end, these are all about how we live together with all beings in harmony and peace.
4.- An artist is, above all, an observer of the world. What does nature that you carefully observe, awaken or bring back to you to create art?
When I feel that I get drained by people or by busy surroundings, only calm nature can heal me completely according to my life experience.
I get energy from nature. It calms me down, pampers me, and relaxes my five senses. The wave sounds, soft and tender breeze, birds flying here and there with funny sounds, blue sea shining silver, a green tree with cat crawling, a honey bee with roundy cutty hip up in the sky busy from flower to flower…
And then, next will happen automatically. Loosening up, smiling in my heart , my brain muscle becomes relaxed, From wiithin and then look around, I don’t need to investigate, just enjoy the moment and observe the surroundings and my imagination will take me further to sketch the images in my mind.
5.- As a bond between East and West, what differences between both civilizations do you seek to combine in your art work?
These two civilizations 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 works.
I use western invented materials like oil and acrylic paints on canvas to express the feelings and concepts from the East.
For instance, in another one of my earlier series called ‘Earth series’ I was using acrylic colors with korean traditional ink on canvas and Korean linen and cotton. The brush strokes are Korean traditional painting skills which are very different from Western ones.
6.- “Ready to Open” (2011) is a series of paintings that vindicates the beauty and strength of humanity from hope, a feeling that we need to hold on to, in order to overcome this crisis of globalization. How is it possible to be prepared to open up more to the world, if this places us in a position of greater vulnerability to risks?
We miss the lives we had before. We wish that this crisis would end soon and take back our normal life. We don’t know when it will end, we are just guessing how long it might last. Our lifes 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.
I hope this crisis give us a chance to open our eyes and be aware of what is really going on in this world. By removing prejudices that this society already built in us, we will be able to have pure interest and curiosity to know the truth of different cultures, people, countries,…
To make it happen, there should be more transparency between people and between countries, it will lead us to build more trust. Then our fear of disbenefits from opening up more to the world in this 21 st century will be minimized.
What should we do from now on to make it come true? I am about to write some of my own suggestions.
We learned this time that we are much more connected to each other than we thought. Opening up more to the world, like other cultures, people, countries…should be based on the respect of the difference and consideration for others.
To do so, learningWorld history in school including Eastern Asian countries just like we Koreans learn World history including detailed history of European countries in school. Then our perspective to see the world will broaden and it will help us to understand each other better.
You can also read more material about the basic principles of Eastern Asian philosophy (refer to question 3) just like we Koreans learn about European literature and philosophy in school.
Then the next generations will understand better the beauty of the difference.
It will take a long time but this is a necessary step to go forward to a better future.
7.- “Transcendence” (2015) is a conceptual, abstract and minimalist series based on a deep reflection of East Asian philosophy. Your work invite us to look at the past, live in the present and think about the future, through a common structure. How is it possible to achieve this moderation to live the present with greater stability and inner peace?
First of all, I am not a guru or meditator. But I am going to try to tell you a bit of my way.
Live in the present. Don’t live in the past whether it was glorious and happy or miserable and painful. Don’t think of your future too much either. If you are fearful of something then you live in a future which has not happened yet, therefore don’t think too much and too deep of things that are not existing at this present.
Slow down, and you start to see what things you didn’t.
Try not to do more than you can do, knowing yourself better and knowing your limits is important.
To paint a healthy painting :
Firstly, Eat simple and good food.
And then Reduce thoughts.
Shake the body lightly in rhythm.
8.- What creative activities are you carrying out during this time of confinement we are going through in this current health crisis?
Reading books for my brain not to burst by fake news online.
Painting, painting , painting. Challenge my patience by pushing myself further with new painting techniques and practice another type of painting such as Korean traditional painting.
Write in my journal. It helps me to know myself better in this reality .
Talk more with my love during this confinement. I still get amazed on how much we didn’t know about each other although we’ve been together for so long.
Divide the house chores well with my love to avoid unnecessary and useless conflicts during this confinement.
Home exercise with deep stretches and deep breathing.
Self-lymphatic massage to relax my tension.
9.- What are the next works you are working on and what will be your next exhibitions?
I am still working on my ‘Ready to Open’ series.
I am currently perfecting my Korean Traditional painting skills to bring unexpected surprises for my next projects. It will show East meet West.
Thank you very much for granting me with this interview for THE BIOMBO. I hope that you will continue acquiring lots of success in your career as an artist.