Life Preservers by Sejong Cho at Metro Gallery Reviewed by Seola Lee

Baltimore-based artist Sejong Cho’s new exhibit Life Preservers at Metro Gallery features about twenty different creatures, ranging from an emu egg to a whale shark. The show includes eight paintings and eighteen drawings in varying sizes.

Each piece is titled by the animal it presents—no fancy slogan or artsy jargon. Her choice of topic also reflects this simplicity, but the work is elaborate in its details, such as clustered eggs on the weedy sea dragon’s tail or numerous scales and wrinkles of the chameleon, or the vibrant colors that blow life into each creature.

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The exhibition feels like you are in a vivarium, Latin for ‘place of life.’ Depicted are different life forms, varying from a tiger shrimp to a hippopotamus. On the middle of the center wall are the two largest pieces, a huge rhinoceros and elephant facing each other, behind which the horizon gleams with light.

Despite the ostensibly plain nature of the subject matter of animals, the work retains a classical feel. It is rare to find an exhibit that earnestly delves into this variety of animals with the detail which Cho employs. The artist’s meticulous study of anatomy and the figure is obvious. In the drawings, done with pencil on paper, she pays attention to easily overlookable features, such as fuzz around the Walrus’ mouth or the shape of bent stripes as the Okapi hops from the ground.

Cho uses colors to accentuate this vitality. Many of the paintings—”Tiger shrimp,” “Rhinoceros,” “African elephant,” and “Jelly fish”—use the same compositions from the drawing sketches, but Cho’s colors add extra texture and volume. In “Frog,” she mingles green and black waves in the back, and, combined with its blue legs highlighted by a white dot, the frog appears poised to take a leap from the red leaf it is sitting on. The same happens with “Jelly fish”—because of the gentle glow of light in the background dimming down from the water surface, the jellyfish appears to float in the water in slow motion.

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The artist uses extra-pigmented colors to further enrich her paintings. “Rhinoceros” and “African elephant” are the only works that include the landscape in the background, and just like in other paintings, every color is saturated to the maximum in coral, pink, purple, blue, orange, and so on. Her works trigger a genuine yet inexplicable fascination toward animals that we have all experienced, especially as children.

Cho’s work can be admired for its formal virtuosity, or for the simple pleasure of looking at the creatures that resonate emotionally. Animals—our fellow life forms we share the Earth with—are magnificent and beautiful. Cho ‘preserves’ these ‘life preservers’ in the most animated way she can, and through a combination of visual pleasure and memory flashback her preservation succeeds.

 

Life Preservers at Metro Gallery through July 5, 2015
1700 N Charles St,
Baltimore, MD

Author Seola Lee is a Baltimore-based poet.