at Steve Turner Gallery, Los Angeles
Reviewed by Ellen C. Caldwell
Paige Jiyoung Moon’s solo exhibit, Days of Our Lives, at Steve Turner, Los Angeles, is utterly immersive and compelling. Through minute details both in size (with most paintings averaging just 12 inches in size) and in presenting the everyday, Moon highlights the mundane aspects of life, elevating the ephemeral and making the fleeting more permanent and profound.
In Ko’s Old Apartment, Moon portrays intricate details to offer a glimpse into a friend’s hangout and an artist’s life. We see two young women lounging with face masks on, atop one twin bed and one makeshift bed on the floor, as if mid-sleepover. And we also see clues into an artist’s life, as Ko’s tools are embedded around the room — a set of colored pencils on the desk along with a glass of paintbrushes in the foreground and a shelf with paints in the background. Small details like a couple small bags of trash on the floor also offer the viewer insight into the ephemeral nature of these paintings. Moon captures the ultimate lived and imperfect realities of life rather than an imagined, perfected, and unrealistic version.
As Moon described to a 2014 interview, she has a specific process for recording such memories and times with friends. Moon noted that, “When I hang out with my friends, I look around the environment where I am and imagine it as a painting. There are certain times that make me feel like I want to remember everything around me like colors, furniture, and people in the environment. I think of those days and some funny happenings that make me laugh. Later, I start sketching on papers to see compositions and details. I try to convey a moment to a similar visual image, but I change if I want to.” This idea of depicting the mundane is key to all of Moon’s works, though the exhibit Days of Our Lives does seem to highlight two distinct subjects — those of the outdoor, nature-inspired trips like Mirror House, Baldy Road, A Hiker, and Undisturbed Nature and those of the interior and more people-oriented spaces such as Warm House, Ko’s Old Apartment, Uninvited Guest, and Sol.
In Warm House, for instance, Moon depicts the details of an intimately packed restaurant. It is at once familiar and cozy. She paints small details like how some people sit together in restaurant spaces chatting while others do so on their phones. Throughout her interior works, the inextricable ties of phones to our everyday life is abundantly clear, but not in a pessimistic or demonstrative way. It is simply another reality Moon observes and paints.
As Leah Ollman observed in her review for the Los Angeles Times, “Moon’s depiction of herself and her peers so consistently engaged with their phones — whether on a social night out or a private night in — adds to the naturalism of the pictures. They are true not just to the material texture of the everyday but also to its cultural texture.” In Undisturbed Nature, Moon again depicts this “cultural texture” as a pair of people take photos of one another taking photos on their phones. The details Moon references, like the snow sticking to their shoes and the playfulness of the moment, are just another aspect that make her paintings inviting, memorable, and relatable.
Moon highlights crisp details throughout, like the patterns of the rug and blanket in Ko’s Old Apartment and like the wall hanging and sharp corners and lines of the window blinds in Uninvited Guest. There are also similar small details throughout each work that make you wonder about Moon’s process. The sandy ground of the outdoor paintings like Baldy Road and Mirror House are unfathomable — did she use a brush to splatter each intricate grain of imperfect sand or was this painted one small dot at a time? And in the interior paintings, the titles of the stacked books or even a small package of gum are not only suggested, but are completely legible.
Her admiration for David Hockney stands out in this way, as there are multiple Hockney books included in Ko’s Old Apartment and Uninvited Guest as well. Stylistically, Hockney’s influence is also clear when you consider Moon’s works like Mirror House which resembles and pays homage to some of Hockney’s famed photomontages like Pearblossom Hwy., 11 – 18th April 1986, #1.
In works like A Hiker and Sol, Moon focuses more on just one person rather than the background details or story being told. These feel larger in comparison, with their sole focus on a portrait of a distinct individual. But Moon stays true to her style in the way that she couples these with background details that still pull the viewer in fully and immersively, like the pebbles and fern shown behind Sol. And in A Hiker, my mind got continuously caught up in a looped cycle: as my eyes moved around the small painting, the top left corner of blue sky kept drawing me in. It looked so much like a photograph that I had to keep mentally processing the fact that it was a painting and not a photograph. But then I would let my eyes wander again, and I would go through this process anew, eyes moving around the details being fooled into thinking it was a photograph and then marveling at the fact of its painted surface. This experience alone was delightful, as was Moon’s show as a whole.
Moon also includes small textual messages throughout, as if they are directed at the viewer using the second person “you.” In Warm House, for instance, a small sign above the bar says “Designed by you.” And in Ko’s Old Apartment, a poster print or painting in the foreground says “I see you thinking.” And, in Uninvited Guest, a tissue box under the coffee table says “I’m there when you are sad.” These subtle messages are powerful and direct, connecting the everyday fabric of our lives directly to both the viewer and our emotions as well. Because as mundane as something like a box of tissue might be, Moon also points out how it is also quite profoundly there for us in moments of need too. In capturing these small details of life, Paige Jiyoung Moon captivates.
Featured Image: Mirror House
An LA-born and -based art historian, writer, and educator, Ellen C. Caldwell reflects upon art, visual culture, identity, memory, and history for JSTOR Daily and New American Paintings. To see more of Ms. Caldwell’s work, visit eclaire.me.
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