Recently, on a hot Saturday afternoon, Non-Native New York visited Jee Hwang in her Screwball Space studio, on the border of Red Hook and the Gowanus Canal neighborhood.

When meeting her, we noticed how quiet she is compared to the powerful psychological subject matter that is on her canvases. Female figures are bound, confined, or physically struggling within themselves. Jee shared her drawings with us, which she works on quickly and in series. The drawings serve as breaks from the paintings, which can take up to 2-3 months to complete.


NNNY: Describe your studio practice.

Jee: I work from photographs, which I set up, and then draw from the photographs. I do both drawing and painting at the same time; some days I get too lazy to do the paintings so I do drawings. They work together. Sometimes drawings help in some element that I can’t do in the painting, then it works in the opposite way.

Generally, if I get an idea I do some sketches, and instead of going directly to the painting, I do studies by taking photos and setting up a model. I dress the model and set them up, then see how it looks through taking pictures. Then I get one image and project it onto the canvas, which I sketch and then paint. There are sometimes unexpected parts, like in this one (painting of empty bottles of shoes); she happened to have the red shoes that day, and I didn’t plan it, but it became my favorite part.

I project it to make the process quicker because a painting takes a while. It can take up to 2-3 months. Usually I focus on one painting, but I’m always drawing as an ongoing process. If I don’t draw it right at the time, I lose it all.

This series is called Joissance, it’s a French word for human desire…all the jars would hold desire. The body holds desire or memories; the paintings have to do with communication, protecting or denying communication.

: What successes and difficulties have you had as a foreign–born artist in New York?

Jee: Good things first: everyone is from somewhere else; everyone is a stranger, so the fact that I am a stranger is not a defect. Really everyone respects where people are coming from and all different cultures. If you go to Flushing, you can’t really tell, is this America or Asia. People are speaking all other languages.

I still really have difficulty with the language, so that might be my penalty. I have really bad writing. If you want to apply for residencies or something, it’s all about writing. I don’t have excellent speaking or writing skills, so that’s my difficulty. I tend to get along with a lot of Koreans, so if you’re with them a long time, it’s really bad for your English speaking practice.

Other than that, it’s really great. There are a lot of Asian women artists who share thoughts and have similar paths to art and career, so we can share our thinking, and they can really understand much better than Americans.

NNNY: How has moving to the United States influenced your art?

Jee: I had some art education in Korea, but when I came to the United States it became more important. In Korea it was very academic and boring; but when I came here I was in Maryland, there was nothing there, just some cornfields and chicken farms. I didn’t have a lot of friends. So I transferred to a university in Salisbury, that’s in the eastern shore of Maryland. And I had to spend a lot of time in the studio by myself, making paintings and drawings. So that’s when I started to think about my subject matter. I had a huge amount of time to myself, nothing else to do, and it was painful at the time, but I wouldn’t be myself right now without that.

I had some friends, but at the time I really wasn’t good at English. I was working a part-time job, and taking classes and studying English, so it was hard to make many friends. In Korea it is different, college, because everyone takes the same classes, and the schedule is all the same, so you’re stuck with the same people 24 hours a day. But here, everyone is on different schedules, you really don’t get to talk to each other, it’s harder to connect.


NNNY: What are your upcoming shows, projects, etc?

Jee: I am in a show titled from the tongue... June 24 - August 6 2010 at Lotus Gallery Space (34 North Moore St, NYC). Opening Reception is Thursday, June 24, 7-10pm. Also, The Vermont Studio Center, July 4th-July 31st.


For more information on Jee Hwang please visit her website:

© 2010 Non-Native New York

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