Here in Chicago, two artists recently exhibited work on the theme of double-ness. Rina Yoon, a Korean-born printmaker who lives in Milwaukee, says that she has lost her identity, and belongs neither to her native country nor to her adopted land. Molly Briggs, a Chicago painter, uses different media to make the same imagery cool and scientific, or cheerful and child-like. Her work explores color's ability to impede and reflect light.
Yoon showed ten large-scale (up to 12 feet wide) collagraphs at Artemisia Gallery in February. Her work evokes memories of early childhood. We see a silhouette-like image of a girl in a dress, a seated baby and adult figures, but these have no facial expressions and do not interact with each other.
Often, the figures float at the edge of the picture, which may have a large, undefined space at its center. We see occasional suggestions of a scene -- forms that could be a fence, a doorway or hills. "To describe my sense of displacement, I create a space that is dreamlike and ambiguous, where time is stopped," the artist says.
This series started four years ago when Yoon found photographs from her childhood. "I do not have any recollection of those times," she says. The artist left Korea at the age of 17 "for personal reasons," learned English when she got to the U.S., and has supported herself for the past 19 years while living in nine different states.
Thinking that she might return permanently, Yoon visited Korea after college, but found that she "could not identify" with the culture. Today, she lives in a mixed neighborhood and makes no special effort to seek out other Korean-Americans. She calls her work an "ongoing journey 'back' recollecting/re-collecting fragments of memory."
A collagraph is a "non-traditional additive printing process using a plate of found material," says the artist. She employs compressed plastic foamboard as the base and may cut into it with a router or jigsaw. "I work very much the way you would to make a linoleum cut or woodcut," she states.
On top of the base plate, Yoon may place cut paper, textured fabric, gessoed material, sand or wood. We see a variety of textures in her collagraphs, which serve to activate the large flat areas of subdued color. "I make the collagraph look like an etching," she says, "using liquid acrylic, pumice powder or modeling paste -- all wet media with different textures. I work out the design intuitively."
All this seems terribly complicated and Yoon's technical restlessness sometimes gets in her way. Her simplest pieces -- Swing Me Away and Seek II, for example -- are the most effective. Still, this is a beautiful, deeply felt show. The artist has taken familiar themes -- memory and exile -- and done something fresh with them.
Depending on the medium she chooses, Molly Briggs can be quite serious or good, bouncy fun. In January, she showed four photograms and five paintings on paper in the Fassbender Gallery's Project Room. Her imagery, which she calls "shapes and marks that derive from science," comes from memories of viewing cellular and DNA materials through a microscope.
For about two years, Briggs has painted on translucent mylar using transparent colored inks. Interested in color's ability to impede light, the artist shone light through the painted mylar onto light-sensitive paper and made photograms. Experimentation led her to silver gelatin, which has "the best tonal range," she says. The photograms are cyanine blue, which suggests water to the artist.
Briggs's photograms Latheo and Transformer are dark blue circles in the center of a white sheet with small, semi-abstract shapes reversed out of the background and seeming to float in deep space. The round shape and intense blue suggest that we are looking through a lens.
About nine months ago, Briggs began to paint in bright pink and orange gouache or tempera, some with glitter in it. Now the shapes and marks suggest rotini, 1960s hairdos, lacy doilies and odd little blobs. They float as before, but seem to have been doodled by a lovable child. These works explore color's ability to reflect light, the artist says.
We see formal and personal double-ness in the work of Molly Briggs and Rina Yoon. Briggs's concerns include imagery, color, and what light can do. Yoon makes art about memory and identity. Both women are young, serious, and very accomplished. We expect great things from them.