Beauty and Bugagi: The Art of Wonju Seo

“For me, ‘travelogue’ refers to the process of visualizing landscape and virtual nature, using textiles as an abstract art.” ~ Wonjo Seo

The Pacific Northwest has a vibrant history and movement in textile/paper art and production – a large portion coming from artists of Korean descent. Like Jiyoung Chung, Youngmin Lee, and Bella Yongok Kim, innovative artists embellish the creative landscape with exceptionally complex works of unique style and scope. Even La Conner’s Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum currently has a gallery showcasing the best contemporary Korean quilts by up-and-coming artisans.

At the Korea Society in New York City, the current show is titled Wonju Seo: Travelogue, Korean-born artist Wonjo Seo goes to the heart of her creations too: a myriad of techniques and subtle disciplines designed to bring the viewer into a world like never before – one of cultural shapes, forms and perceptions. In showing how art can be more than just representational, the artist shows us that it can also be just as abstract as it can be emotionally beneficial as well.

Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, Seo developed an interest in art early on; She attended Hong-Ik University in Seoul, famous for its baccalaureate programs in art and architecture. Upon completion of her education, she left college to pursue work as a designer and commercial silk graphic artist. Around 1998, she moved to the United States to continue her career as a full-time artist. Here she moved her artistic direction towards the geometric form of abstract art.

Using the ancient form of a Korean weaving technique called Bugaji (“Drape Cloth”), the artist creates a distinctive fusion of traditional and modern. As she would say, “My life as a teenager in the patriarchal society and my present life in the Western world became the backdrop to my creative activity.”

Organic, bold and lively Wonju Seo’s work can be taken as experimental, abstract or continuous, depending on the individual’s own interpretation – however, it is certainly a pleasure to please the eyes of a conscious viewer. When you enter the organization’s event space, wrapped in blessings 2018seen as intricately layered wrapped boxes of embroidered silk textiles, are vividly displayed in colors from rose red to dark gray – easily reminiscent of one of the patterns usually seen on circus costumes, especially Harlequin, the comic maid character of the Italian Comedy dell’arte.

Seo’s association with Korean tradition and society has always been important to her; Growing up in Korea and studying women’s history and the textile industry, the artist created these pieces with this artistic inspiration in mind. By meticulously working by hand and offering a complete understanding of the process, the experience made it all the more vital for her when it came time to mass-produce art

Work titled Contemporary Silk Bugatti, 2020, 2020 It presents such detail-oriented and laborious precision, as if starting in the middle of the space and working outward, like a Piet Mondrian painting unfolds into full activity. As one observes closely in each of these textile ‘squares’, one can see the intricate but unusual patterns, colors and shapes that would serve as inspiration and continuity for her huge collection of works.

Featured in the gallery section, Through my window: ocean, sky and windAnd 2021 It is fascinating and baffling at the same time when witnessing these wonders firsthand. Meticulously done with alcohol ink, paper, Korean silk, and photography, it begins with solid plates of rectangular shapes that move in and out with splashes of color: green, blue, and red. Algae-like in appearance, colors blend with shapes: abstract but linear, specks and smudges visually accumulate, creating shades of transparency and light – like looking through many windows to the outside, constantly expanding with each movement, becoming completely otherworldly and expressive.

Her innovative creations, such as her series ‘Cartography’ (cotton thread work) and ‘White Wonderland’ (silk origami squares), bear just as much – with the same skill, technique, and dedication as the other works displayed throughout the two show spaces.

Draw the map. Photo courtesy of Wonju Seo.

At its core, Wonju Seo’s work reflects the importance of how form can become more than just form; It can take shape and exert itself in areas beyond what the eye can see and what the hand can produce. Her unique work propels the viewer toward a full and complete state of understanding, seeing and feeling–a conscious roadmap toward a tradition, direction, and cultural identity.

The exhibition will be on display until May 27. Korean society is located in 350 Madison Street in New York City.

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