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Jungwoo Ha'sarticle on Artslant


Able Fine Art NY Gallery
511 West 25th St., Suite 607, New York, New York 10001
May 21, 2015 - June 9, 2015


Jung-woo Ha, "Our Town" 17.9" x 12" Oil marker on paper, 2015 (left)           The artist and his work (right)



                                                       REVIEW BY MARY GREGORY


Jung-Woo Ha, Friends, Able Fine Art NY Gallery in Chelsea, installation


Jung-woo Ha, the gifted and accomplished award-winning Korean actor and director reveals another side of himself in his current solo exhibition, "Friends," at Able Fine Art NY Gallery in Chelsea.  His suite of 23 pen and ink drawings and paintings on paper were all completed in 2015.  They are mostly portraits, depicting a wide range of personalities, but, more importantly, they offer a rare glimpse into the private side of this very public persona.  Able Fine Art NY, which has established itself as one of the premier venues for international contemporary art, with a special emphasis on Korean 21st century artists, is presenting Jung-woo Ha's artwork for the first time.

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N.Y10 14x20", Oil marker and color pencil on paper    N.Y15 14x20", Oil marker and color pencil on paper

The works are vibrant, complex and rich with symbolism and allusion.  They are representations, more than anything else, of the range of emotions Ha has portrayed countless times in his acting.  Mask-like faces, sometimes covered with markings, confront the viewer.  They are flattened and opaque, but yet, expressive.  Wide eyes stare directly out, illustrating a variety of states of mind and being.  Some are sorrowful.  Some seem angry, others humorous or passively watchful.  All, under Ha's hand, are evocative.  They present ruminations on the self—what is presented on the surface and what lies behind it—perfectly attuned to the dual nature of the life of an actor.  

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N.Y20 14x20", Oil marker and color pencil on paper        N.Y22 14x20", Oil marker and color pencil on paper

Masks have been used for centuries in Eastern arts and rituals.  In Korea, they have been utilized in shamanic healing, as part of burial ceremonies, to memorialize, and of course, most elegantly, in the theater.  Visitors to the country often return with reproductions of traditional Hahoe, Sandae Noli and Talchum masks as souvenirs.  It's not surprising that Ha should be drawn to masks and all they represent.  In his drawings and paintings he's offering his personal vision, rather than playing a role written by someone else.  Yet, both his artwork and his film career are about what the English poet T.S. Eliot refers to as  putting on "a face to meet the faces that you meet."  Ha's work addresses ideas of illusion and reality, the universal and the deeply private.


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N.Y2 14x20", Oil marker and color pencil on paper     N.Y5 14x20", Oil marker and color pencil on paper

Prominent in his imagery are crosses and hills, references to tribal markings, and roots and plants.  These are not haphazard markings.  They are emblems and symbols that reference spiritual, natural and human realities.  Crosses atop mounds evoke Christian symbols of both death and resurrection.  Striated faces and primitive tattoos visually connect contemporary mankind to its ancestors.  Flowers are perhaps the ultimate expression of both beauty and re-creation.

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N.Y3 14x20", Oil marker and color pencil on paper           N.Y4 14x20", Oil marker and color pencil on paper



In his art, he states, Jung-woo Ha finds both solace and inspiration.  As it is for many other actors and musicians, visual art is a natural extension of Ha's creative impulse and abilities.  Actors James Franco, Dennis Hopper, and Anthony Hopkins and the Rolling Stones' Ron Wood are also part of a long list who have all worked in paint while they worked in entertainment.  And like some of the world's greatest artists, Jung-woo Ha is self-taught.  Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, William Blake and Theodore Rousseau were all autodidacts.  Often unschooled artists are among the most creative and inventive—free from constraints of what is and isn't supposed to be done.  Jean Michel Basquiat, another self-taught artist, has greatly influenced his work, Ha states.  Indeed, echoes of Basquiat's bold lines, tight, energetic gestures, images mixed with sometimes perplexing text, a sense of the reality of the street, and his uncompromising look at everyday people, can be found in Ha's work.   

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N.Y17 14x20", Oil marker and color pencil on paper         N.Y18 14x20", Oil marker and color pencil on paper



In his acting career, glamour follows Jung-woo Ha wherever he goes.  In his artwork, it's been excised.  There's a sense of the dreamlike in his work, and a decorative search for balance and beauty.  An abstraction in reds of flowers, sensitive portraits not of heroic figures but of unnoticed individuals counteract the hyperbole and exaggeration of movies.  Through his drawings and paintings, Ha retreats to his own utopia, and to himself.  Art, for him,  is a place of reflection, introspection and inspiration.  It's a way to express his own voice, to reconnect to the self.  Millions of people have come to know the public face of Jung-woo Ha.  Visitors to Able Fine Art NY Gallery's expressive and impressive exhibition of his work will discover a different, more personal vision. 



Mary Gregory is NY art critic and historian.  She writes a monthly column on museums and galleries in Long Island Pulse, one of the largest regional magazines in the United States, and her exhibition reviews appear frequently in the City Arts section of several NY newspapers including Our Town, The Spirit, The Chelsea News, and Our Town Downtown, as well as other publications.

Posted by Mary Gregory on 5/27/15

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