Exhibition Review in East City Art by Dr. Claudia Rousseau

East City Art Reviews—Kyujin Lee and Jacqui Crocetta Looking In, Looking Out at Adah Rose Gallery | East City Art
Adah Rose Gallery has two small exhibition spaces making it possible to have two solo shows at the same time.  Yet, the proximity of each suggests some connection between the two, as is the case with the current installation under the title Looking In, Looking Out.  The first part would apply to the new series of paintings by Korean American artist Kyujin Lee, the second to that of Jacqui Crocetta.  Among the things that connect the two is the color blue which in different tones dominates both.  But as the title implies, Lee is painting images that emerge from her use of figures that come from deep in her psyche, while Crocetta aims to replicate her experience of looking at nature in a profoundly concentrated “way of seeing” in her work.[1]

Kyujin Lee, Take Wing, ink, acrylic on canvas, 12” x 12”, 2022.  Photo courtesy of the artist.
Lee has described her method which, she says, is based in the Surrealist approach of automatism.  In a process reminiscent of that used by Surrealist André Masson, Lee begins by broadly staining her canvas with a diluted blue water-based acrylic.  Contemplating the marks in the stained areas, she allows them to stimulate the “appearance” of psychic “characters” that stand for and express the artist’s deep psychological struggles, her “inadequate sense of self,” as well as the long term pain of her childhood trauma. [2]  In a way that echoes similar figures representing archetypes Jungian psychology, all but two of the characters come from childhood memories of them. Pinocchio and the Little Mermaid were the first to appear, followed by a naked figure of uncertain gender and a large hand that is either a translucent blue or white gloved.  Finally, in 2020, a new image, a free-spirited Little Red Riding Hood, joined the cast.  In the paintings now on view, there is a mix of these actors, representing situations that evoke a sense of myth.  In a sense, they are mythic in that they convey a narrative that expresses the artist’s emotional journey and her ability to continue to move forward through her life.

Kyujin Lee, Callow Fellow, ink, acrylic, tissue paper on canvas, 30”x 21”, 2022.  Photo courtesy of the artist.
Yet Lee’s paintings are neither morose nor redolent of PTSD.  They are visually and emotionally compelling. Each almost seems like scenes from a children’s storybook, with a dreamy aspect that is hard to pin down.  Viewers may feel that they should remember where they’ve read or seen them before.  But these episodes won’t be recalled because they never were in any of the tales they evoke.  The only exception, perhaps, is the large cloud-like hand (or hands) which, like the Hand of God in popular religious art, represents for Lee, an “unknown force, a higher power that indirectly influences the outcome of the drama” in the scene.
This last image, the hand, is particularly interesting in that it has a long art historical tradition beginning in the early Medieval period. Usually signifying divine protection, it often represents the participation of the divine in human affairs, or the unfolding of prophesied events.  The Hand holding a person or a child is a motif in many more recent examples including a famous sculpture by Auguste Rodin,[3] or a contemporary work by Lorenzo Quinn which depends on the traditional meaning of this imagery.

Lorenzo Quinn, Hand of God, patinated bronze, 2016-17.  Photo Steve Wilson, Wikimedia Commons.

In her Shelter in Place Lee takes a different approach to this, one that both is more topical and more personal.  The human figure, which Lee writes “embodies an ideal form of myself” is hidden under a marble chair held there by the Hand that also protects the Little Mermaid.  Little Red Riding Hood slides off the corner edge of the chair, perhaps to join the other figures?  I could go on, but the quizzical nature of these works should already be evident.

Kyujin Lee, Shelter in Place, ink, acrylic, tissue paper on canvas, 11” x 9”, 2022.  Photo courtesy of the artist.
Jacqui Crocetta’s solo presents new paintings that continue to reference the artist’s profound commitment to expressing a heightened awareness of the interconnectedness of all life on this planet through her work.  Without being preachy, Crocetta’s concern for the environment and for the human suffering that ensues from inaction, destruction and exploitation are also implicit.

Jacqui Crocetta, Casting Spells, acrylic on polyester film, 12” x 12”, 2022.  Photo courtesy of the artist.
Crocetta’s paintings give us far more than clichéd climate change propaganda.  These are works that stimulate the imagination to contemplate the fragile beauty of nature.  The artist is particularly fascinated by the liminal places along the coast where the ocean meets the land between high and low tides.  These intertidal areas, where tidepools are found, teem with “resilient forms of sea life” and geological formations.  While not representing them in a realistic sense, Crocetta conjures them through color and form, and the remarkable sense of movement that her technique affords.

Jacqui Crocetta, Intertidal, acrylic on polyester film, 38” x 23”, 2022.  Photo courtesy of the artist.
Having substantially changed her painting method at the outset of the pandemic in 2020, Crocetta has evolved and refined her approach.  She has begun painting on a polyester film that holds the paint without it staining into the surface as it does with a canvas support.  Still beginning with guided washes of color from a carefully selected palette, she then begins the incredibly labor intensive process of bringing the composition to life with myriad small circles and spots, all done with a brush. The process is slow and meditative, and allows the content to emerge at that pace.  Crocetta has said that she needs this patient work to allow her emotions about the natural world to be imbued in her paintings.

Jacqui Crocetta, Storytellers, acrylic on polyester film, 16” x 24”, 2022.  Photo courtesy of the artist.
Because these paintings are so dense and layered, they attract the viewer to come close to their surfaces which are barely visible in photos. It’s when you are in front of them that the tiny circular bubbles and dots clearly appear.  The exhibit includes a few landscape images alongside the water paintings. Looking at Crocetta’s Storytellers, one can’t avoid thinking of the Pointillist Georges Seurat.  A comparison is interesting.

Georges Seurat, The Channel of Gravelines, Petit Fort Philippe, oil on canvas, 1890.  Photo Wikimedia Commons.
The forms of Seurat’s painting, here one of the Gavelines series, are composed of small, almost imperceptible dots of color, carefully calibrated to imply lighted and shaded areas.  His approach is objective, and effectively results in a realistic rendering of the scene.  The water is completely still, as are the other parts of the composition.  In contrast, Crocetta’s painting is full of motion, and emotional expression.  The artist is “in” her painting, whereas Seurat kept his distance.
Each of the watery paintings in the show is captioned with a poetic text selected from various sources. For example, Casting Spells is accompanied by a quote from the famed conservationist, Jacques-Yves Cousteau:
            The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. 
For Intertidal, a quote from Rachel Carson:
“The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place.”
The quotations amplify the emotional depth of the paintings, and become, as do the titles, part of each.  But because they are not inscribed on the surface, they remain separate, allowing viewers to find their own response to this remarkable work.
 Looking In, Looking Out: Kyujin Lee and Jacqui Crocetta, Adah Rose Gallery, January 27-February 28, 2023.  Artist Talk, Sunday, Feb. 12, 10:30 AM, with bagels and coffee.  Hours: Thursday, 12-6, Friday 11-5, Saturday 10-4, Sunday 12-5, and by appointment.  3770 Howard Ave
Kensington Md 20895, 301-922-0162.
[1] This and all subsequent quoted phrases are taken from the artists’ statements for this exhibition.
[1] Compare this to Masson’s Battle of the Fishes (1926) in which the artist first poured glue in random passes and then sprinkled sand over the canvas.  Looking at the result, Masson picked out and drew fish and other forms that suggested themselves visually.
[1] Auguste Rodin, Hand of God, marble, multiple editions, c. 1894-1907

Artist's Statement: Looking In, Looking Out (1/27 - 2/28)

Looking In, Looking Out @Adah Rose Gallery, 1/27/2023 - 2/28/2023

I have been employing the same art-making process since 1996, my final year in graduate school. Following  the surrealistic tradition of automatism, I start by staining my painting surface with water-based pigment. I then observe the spontaneously created marks until they reveal to me distinct images, which subsequently inform me of particular visual narratives. 

From that beginning, in those random marks, I always see Pinocchio and the Little Mermaid, two children's story characters that made a significant imprint in my childhood memory. And I have been utilizing those characters as alter egos that stand in for my inadequate sense of self and the inner struggles fed by my childhood traumas. Over time, two more images have appeared on a regular basis: a full-fledged human figure and an oversized hand. Upgraded from the wooden boy or the half-human and half-fish female form, the completed human body that emerges embodies an ideal form of my self or, alternately, a mere shell of that self. And the larger-than-life hand represents an unknown force, a higher power that indirectly influences the outcome of the drama involving the other main characters.

In 2020, a new image emerged for the first time in my art practice: Little Red Riding Hood. In preparing for this exhibition, I fully embraced and adopted this new, colorful figure in my work. To me, this well-known fairy tale figure symbolizes the innocence of a pure blank space, a space uncontaminated by a sense of superiority or inferiority–a space free from any judgments. Unweighted by psychological struggles and moral codes, she appears in my visual stories of internal emotional conflicts as a fluid character who shifts freely from the role of an observer to that of a pawn, a griever, and a disruptor. 

In utilizing this slowly-evolving cast of recurring characters, the primary focus of my visual telling of my mindscapes has remained consistent: I am interested in examining and sharing with the viewer not what my emotional struggles are but how I navigate through them and carry on living. As shown in Row, Row, Row Your Boat (2022), the two main protagonists of my stories–Pinocchio and the Little Mermaid–continue to paddle down the stream of my subconscious still today as they have done since the beginning of my artistic and psychological journey. To me, this life I live, know, and create often feels like nothing but a dream.

Kyujin Lee
January 2023

New Exhibition

New Exhibition
New Solo Exhibition, Looking In, Looking Out
1/27/2023 - 2/28/2023
Vernissage: Saturday, Jan. 28, 5-7pm
Adah Rose Gallery 
3766 Howard Ave
Kensington, MD 20895