Look the first time at her Volossom paintings, and what you see is really a sophisticated game of hide-and-seek that artist InJung Oh plays. Sure, it is all too familiar — a ballerina leg, muscularly long and elegantly lean but often curiously edited to a long limb, always en pointe. The rest of the figure, though, is missing, completely subsumed by an upward flowing skirt as if Marilyn Monroe in the iconic Seven Year Itch, the noticeable difference being gravity since her unidentified from floats suspended in mid-air, disembodied. So sexualized yet so demure.
But I have seen these images before, way back when InJung Oh was still a Master of Fine Arts candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago asking me to stop by her studio to look at a new series of paintings in a colorful pop landscape bling on canvas entitled “King and I”. Vague déjà vu of flower petaled shapes with odd stems, almost like twirling seed pods resembling a female mannequin. Curious but honestly expecting to see more work along the same vein of her graphically stylized, almost pop surrealism reinterpreting Korean folklore, I naturally agreed. Imagine my surprise when she showed me instead a stylized prototype in wood of essentially Betty Grable’s gams, the fishnet stockinged lamp from a Christmas Story, classic male fantasies as eroticized popular culture she references, touching upon soft porn without being blatantly prurient or unwholesome.
So the question for InJung is not what she is hiding but why. Yes, why the contradictions? Or perhaps more accurately, as she points out, the dualities?
To be cliché, she embraced through this invented symbol, the disguised muse of herself, the yin and yang as her acknowledgement of the sensual versus her cynicism of the sexual. Through her painting, InJung is a woman who yearns to embrace her maleness. Not as a transgender issue but rather as the politics of representation, of inverting or really diverting the overall gaze. Her earlier work dealt with such paradoxes intuitively to symbolize male patriarchy as volcanic climax, gesturally explosive brushwork seemingly expressionistic on one hand and then coyly seducing the audience with figure/ground rebuses to beguile our horny imaginations as Betty Page hourglass bodices compositionally.
For me, InJung Oh then confronts and then transforms the romanticized world of young dancers by Edgar Degas into the realm of the somewhat real or her vision of what outside artist Henry Darger called those warring nations of Abbiennia and Glandelinia.
And that is the balance beam InJung chooses to dance on, which involves perceived gendered roles via cultural expectations. Such tension or really pressure is a fascinating tug-of-war on canvas r through materials she constantly battles. Quite simply, she finds beauty within the beast of both.
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Art History, Theory, and Criticism
School of the Art Institute of Chicago