They, Too, Were There: Women Artists Who Made Korean Modern Art History
They, Too, Were There: Women Artists Who Made Korean Modern Art History

The Paintings of Jungran Noh: Colors of Matured Beauty
Jungran Noh’s Abstract Paintings

Jungran Noh’s paintings are created in the abstract form and visually lucid in terms of being able to sense the artist’s own firm attitude toward her work.
I became interested in a series of her recent paintings produced by sweeping the happiness, anger, love and joy of the life on a piece of canvas layer by layer,
which is one of the essential elements of the abstract painting.

If we examine the importance of Noh’s paintings in the context of modern art history, we can trace the root of her works back to the school of abstract expressionism,
which was one of the most prominent trends in 20th century modern art history.
Abstract expressionism was a new form of abstract art development in the American painting circle during the 1940-50s, and played a crucial role in providing
a decisive opportunity for the center of modern art to move from Paris to New York.
The terminology of abstract expressionism was first introduced by art critic Alfred H. Barr Jr. (b. 1902, d. 1981) in 1929 when he made comments on the early
works of Wassily Kandinsky (b. 1866, d. 1944).
Since then, abstract expressionism has not only been an art movement but also a major driving force in manifesting the artistic spirit in the history of modernism and later art.
In addition, the abstract expressionism seen in Korean modern art has not only been influenced by Western styles but also diversely translated by individual artists in their works
and was developed in-depth by Korean artists studying and residing in the United States.

Journey of Fine Art
Jungran Noh (b. 1948) received BFA and MFA from Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, Korea and went to America in 1975 where she studied at California State University, Long Beach.
Throughout her studies, she has pursued the absolute ideal of colors and shapes. American fine art in 1970s and 1980s was a period that saw the coexistence of various trends
and experiments in the arts such as photorealism, conceptual art, minimalism and post-modernism in addition to abstract.
Noh’s 19 years in America as an artist in this environment were a dynamic source of her work and made it possible for her to experience new challenges.

The influence of the abstract expressionism is clearly visible in Noh’s paintings, and at the same time serves as a reference point to understand how it differs from the Western spirit.
We can see through her paintings produced after her move to America that she has consistently experimented with abstract elements, which she has pursued since she studied art at university.
Her balanced use of rich achromatic color is a distinctive features of her early works from her time as a professor at Hongik University’s Graduate School of Fine Art to 2015.
Achromatic color, which is an essential element to produce a dynamic feeling of the visual image, divides the surface of the canvas by enabling all the colors to stand in contrast and reflecting the vividness of the colors.
In particular, this technique can be found Noh’s “Golden Section” series and” “Colors Play” series, which were painted between 1999 and 2003.
This technique can be seen specifically in her painting “Golden Section #51” (1999), in which the deep dark tone of achromatic color creates significant effects on the mathematical and geometrical patterns divided by colors.

Jungran Noh’s paintings can be roughly divided into four periods. The first period is 1970-1975, when she studied at Ewha Women’s University and began pursuing the abstract painting.
The second period is 1980-1995. Her paintings produced during this period exhibit various types of abstract experiments, and the rich achromatic color found in most of her paintings plays
a formative role in the composition of her work. The third period is 1999-2003.
Her work from this period exhibits a color-field abstract characteristic.
The fourth period, from 2005 to the present, consists of works that are composed of layers of horizontal colors dividing the surface and in which the influence of Mark Rothko (1903~1970) can be seen.

From contrast to overlaps
Of the four periods, I was especially drawn to her works from the fourth period, specifically, the series titled ‘Colors Play - Sweeping’ painted from 2016.
The horizontal colors on the surface not only evokes a meditative feeling of the colors but also creates a space for viewers to speculate in private. In particular,
the mixed use of bluish green pastel colors and fluorescent hues revealed within the overlapping grey and achromatic tones is different from the color combination of her previous works.
Even though Rothko’s colors have a visually perfect form of abstract, they do not show the complete transformation of the forms of the objects.
Although Rothko’s colors have a visually perfect form of abstract, it is difficult to call it pure abstract because it is not a concept that completely deviates from the form of an object, but reproduces the object.
However, Jungran Noh’s “Colors Play ? Sweeping” series is created in the perfect form of the abstract, emphasizing the joy of performing or playing with colors in the realm of speculation,
thereby manifesting the feeling of pleasures.
Also noteworthy is her techniques of sweeping overlapping colors repeatedly 20-30 times with a broomstick enables the base colors to be exposed and harmonize with other layers of colors.
When applying this technique, Noh expresses her brushwork as an ‘act of sweeping’ paired with the concept of ‘playing with colors’ rather than the ‘act of painting’,
allowing viewers to imagine how emotionally charged and new the artist must have been in producing her paintings.
She even sweeps her own melancholy mind and the thoughts deep inside of her with colors sublimating her mind to the state of satisfaction, accepting the bright and dark sides of life as they are.
When we come across her brushwork of sweeping colors, which seems like her inner self is dancing with colors, it gives the viewer the exquisite taste of the abstract once again.
“Colors Play - Sweeping #294” (2020) is one such painting that vividly shows how she plays with colors.
Noh’s rough but deliberative brush strokes sweeping over the large colored surface effectively demonstrates the movement and pace of her work.
Such attractive colors are overlapped with other colors creating many layers and textures of colors on the surface by the measured and skillful sweeping strokes of the artist,
and the colors of the artist’s heart are completed with mature beauty.

Aesthetic of “Colors Play-Sweeping” ? Schiller’s Philosophy
The concept of ‘play’ or ‘amusement’ in the philosophy of art can be found in the book titled Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man (1794) written by Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805, Germany).
Written in the form of letter and influenced by Kant’s Critique of Judgement (1790), the book mentions that art, in other words, aesthetic, is the most essential element of human life.
According to Schiller “human beings remain complete as long as they play”.
In addition, the terms ‘aesthetic play’ and ‘freedom’ are used almost interchangeably, and as play is achieved through beauty, ‘beauty’ then is ultimately the key element that makes human beings more human.
Schiller assumes that the point where beauty appears is the state of aesthetic, emphasizing the close relation between beauty and play.
Schiller considered it important to attribute the experiential value of human life go to abstract thinking.
In the sense that “experience” sees beauty that gives vitality, which has a meaning similar to sublime, Schiller’s beauty includes the sublime, and the way to practice beauty is to combine the concept of play or amusement.
In the 18th letter of the Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller specifically discusses the role of beauty -- “By beauty the sensuous man is led to form and to thought;
by beauty the spiritual man is brought back to matter and restored to the world of sense” -- while connecting the values of beauty, art, play, and freedom.
In this respect, I think Jungran Noh’s paintings series “Colors Play ? Sweeping” coincide with Schiller’s thesis on “Play Impulsion”, “Encounter with Beauty and Play”. Going beyond the traditional concept of
‘painting a picture’, Noh creates her own colors of her mind through the act of sweeping colors, a process that enables her life to achieve matured beauty.
As can be seen in her paintings, Noh’s act of “Colors Play ? Sweeping” indeed exhibits her uniqueness that goes beyond the values of abstract expressionism and western artists.

As we have seen thus far, examining the abstract paintings of Korean contemporary artist Jungran Noh, who worked relentlessly at the center of the rapidly changing contemporary art,
can be seen as an artistic work and an achievement that enriches the spirit and activities of Korean contemporary art.
Therefore, Jungran Noh’s paintings are recorded as a vivid testimony to the ongoing abstract art movement in the history of Korean modern art.

Jiun Lee Whitaker

Jiun Lee Whitaker /, 2021