Elemental Abstractions / Hyun Sook Jeong and Gregory Hayes at Blank Space in NYC

Elemental Abstractions

Blank Space, NYC

Jul 24th – Sep 15th 2019

This exhibition presents two artists, Hyun Sook Jeong and Gregory Hayes, who create works that investigate the interaction between their chosen materials and the natural and physical world. While both artists have developed distinct and unique visual styles, their processes and subjects demonstrate a desire to play into things about the world which cannot be fully controlled and the beauty of the work stems in part from the medium itself. To do so, both artists refute the brushstrokes of traditional abstract painting and turn instead to carefully orchestrated and detailed processes that harness the capability of the mediums to create and speak for themselves.

Hyun Sook Jeong works with minute pieces of mother of pearl with which she builds intricate webs of iridescent material punctuated by small glimmers of crystal. By using organic materials, Jeong ensures that the work can never be viewed the same way twice as with every slight movement of the viewer the piece captures light in different way and is changed. The result is an incredibly deep and dynamic form of abstract art wherein the viewer is drawn in from a distance by the shimmer of the surface and deeper yet through the complexity and visual effect of the process. In addition to the intense draw of the materials themselves, the webs of mother of pearl undulate in thickness subtly forcing the illusion of three-dimensionality on the canvas. 

Conceptually, Jeong’s work harkens back to traditional Korean form of Najeon-Chilgi lacquerware from the Joseon Era. Through this art historical link, she contemporizes a traditional form thereby creating a meditative space within which to contemplate this human desire to decorate and accessorize the ordinary with brilliant natural materials. For Jeong the human desire to covet reflective and iridescent materials stems from a desire for light as a nurturing and necessary component of human civilization, both in myth and in practice. The re-contextualization of this form, coupled with the stunning visual effect of her work, places the viewer in the position between old and new, Eastern and Western aesthetics, and light and darkness.

Gregory Hayes has created a technique of brushless painting in which he loads a dropper with multiple colors of paint at a time and applies it to a flat canvas. As he does so, the convex drops of paint on the canvas swirl and coalesce creating rich and detailed tapestries of color that are formed by the relative unpredictability of the liquid paint itself. In some of his work, such as the series’ Color Array and Primary Array, Hayes begins the process by carefully constructing a ¼ inch grid across the canvas while, in Amalgamation, shown in Elemental Abstractions, he forgoes the grid and opts for a far more gestural form of painting, approaching the canvas with mainly his intuition to guide him. What results in Amalgamation are complex compositions of densely layered paint that pull the viewer into the work through a dynamic interplay between the chosen colors. 

Through a careful consideration of not only of the layering of paint in the dropper, but also of the drying time of the medium and absorption rate of the canvas, Hayes is able to partially control how the paint is layered and how two drops might interact. However, through this carefully devised method, much of beauty and character of the work is derived from how the paint acts on its own. In the end, it is the activity of each drop (the marbling, swirling, and bleeding of multiple colors) that comes together to form a larger color field over the entire canvas. Even with his more exact grid based works, Hayes says the parts where he sees the paint do something spontaneous and out of his control are where he sees the best results of his technique, “In my work I strive for exactness, but perhaps it is paradoxical that in striving for perfection – and never reaching it – it is there that you actually find it…It is the imperfect that becomes unique, the flaws that become interesting, the randomness that leads to new ideas.” In this sense, the Amalgamation series perfectly showcases two ends of his practice. On the one hand, from a distance, the viewer is confronted with an impressive and impactful color field that is orchestrated by the artist by his individual choices of palette and strokes. While, on the other, the work opens up when approached and viewed closely as it is here where the tactility, depth, and chance of the works shine brightest.

Gregory Hayes works and lives in Brooklyn. He has received his BFA in painting at Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design and his MFA at Brooklyn College in 2011. His work has been exhibited in many exhibitions in the United States and art fairs internationally including Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in Colorado, SCOPE Basel, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and was included in both the Millay Colony and Fire Island Pines Arts Project residencies.

Jeong Hyun Sook is well renowned in the Korean art market and is gradually gaining reputable acclaim in the United States art scene. Her works have been exhibited in the Sungkok Art Museum, Lee Gallery, Gallery Sejong, and Insa Art Center, to name a few, and have been featured in various international art fairs in Cologne, Miami, New York, London, Geneva, Beijing and Shanghai. Her paintings are held in major Korean art collections such as the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul Museum of Art, and the Sammlungen Collection.

All images > installation views, courtesy Blank Space NYC and the Artists