Julia Jo

Julia Jo (b. 1991, Seoul, South Korea) is a painter based in Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA from Parsons School of Design in 2019, and her BFA from Smith College in 2016. Jo’s work has been shown at NADA New York 2022 by Charle Moffett; Ronchini Gallery, London, UK; Dubai Art Week; and at Dinner Gallery, New York, NY; among others. In addition to Riptide at Charles Moffett, she will be the subject of two upcoming solo exhibitions on the West Coast in 2023, including presentations at James Fuentes in Los Angeles, CA in May, and Jessica Silverman Gallery in San Francisco, CA in the fall. This summer, Jo will participate in the esteemed Beecher Residency. Her work is in the permanent collection of ICA Miami.
January 2, 2023
Tell us about your practice.
My name is Julia Jo, and I am an oil painter. I mostly paint large-scale paintings that seem very abstract at first glance, not readily revealing their figurative roots. I paint about relationships, often the more fundamental ones such as family, friends, lovers, enemies, and even strangers, more specifically about the perilous aspects of each. With my new exhibition at Charles Moffett Riptide, I’ve thought a lot about particular miscommunications that exist in these various relationships and interactions. How miscommunications can find success and redemption, not only in narrative but especially in visual form.
You mentioned that you’re drawn by some moments that take place in one’s mind, yet generate a very physical experience. What are the steps you take to visualize those in your works?
Since we do not have the luxury of escaping our minds, any intense internal experience becomes a very physical space. Especially when it comes to relationships where there often are one or more minds involved, where do we find common ground, and how can we be sure we are experiencing the same thing? I start my paintings like a jigsaw puzzle of figures and colors. Figures lay the groundwork and then become the environment, the physical space where all this turmoil takes place in the end. Every layer I put down becomes a negotiation with what is already there, a visual push and pull of deciding what should be lost and what should be further teased out. So what remains is a careful trail of breadcrumbs to lead the viewer to an undisclosed destination.
Tell us a little about your process – do you approach works more improvisationally or are they more planned out?
I begin each work by sketching directly onto the canvas with color, laying down the foundational figures, bodies of people in space, engaged in a scene, or an interaction of some kind. The colors and figures come in simultaneously to form a patchworked lattice that supports the holistic composition. While the beginning is rather deliberate and planned, as I move through the painting, each layer on top of this initial blueprint is a more reactionary and instinctive process, an active visual negotiation with imagery that is present and what must be done to open up the painting to hold more. I want to create a challenging painting, one that is within arm’s reach but never fully within your grasp, a painting you can return to again and again and uncover something new each time. 
Your approach towards colors seems to have evolved quite a bit looking at your practice these past few years. What do you think about it presently?
Earlier works were more restrained in their overall palette, having one predominant color in each square. I enjoyed this limitation because it forced me to push the mark-making to achieve what I wanted in the final painting, without relying too heavily on the emotional and compositional power of color. Just as I have stuck with square canvases to see how far I can take this format. With the latest works in my new exhibition Riptide, I wanted to bring together elements from former bodies of works to further the vocabulary in my painting language. I approach each series of paintings as an expedition — a chance to establish a new spectrum to see where its ends are, to add a new tool to my collection, and learn a new “word” to better convey the internal process. This exhibition brings together lots of different tools and languages in a more comprehensive way, and I’m thrilled to finally see their journey from the studio to speak for themselves in the gallery.
While very much layered in abstraction, there is a figurative thread in your works – do you see them as portraying a specific narrative or do you think about it more abstractly?
Each painting holds a very specific narrative — a moment, an interaction, or a feeling slightly too difficult to describe accurately in words. Then I begin the editing process of pushing and pulling different details to and from the fore — details such as a hand or a blurry face, an outstretched arm, empty bottles, or a pearl necklace, so the finished painting can be an open-ended loop narrative rather than a linear or specific story. In the final stages of a painting, I realize there’s often a feeling I’ve been holding onto throughout the process of making it, which appears in layered glimpses of the figures’ entanglement. Similar to recalling a memory, the finished painting becomes a very subjective experience, with its major details lost and only the footprints of once intense feelings remaining.
It’s been mentioned that you’ve been influenced by Baroque art, can you expand a little bit about how the influence manifested within your work?
I’ve always been drawn to Baroque paintings because of the sheer level of saturation of drama and emotion they possess. A Rubens’s painting, for instance, embodies a visual language all its own, capable of creating almost a parallel universe. I’ve always thought some Baroque paintings could be a scene from a science fiction movie where the world abides by its own rules. However, I also draw great inspiration from many contemporary painters as well. I get lost looking at the works of Cecily Brown and Julie Mehretu for example, for their astounding ability to create a whole world within a canvas.

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