Interview: Soilart Jo-Dojoong
Luca Curci talks with Soilart Jo-Dojoong during CANVAS INTERNATIONAL ART FAIR 2022, at ITSLIQUID ART SPACE – Venice Grand Canal.
Dojoong Jo is a pioneer in the technique of using soil as a material in painting, making him the world leader in the style known as “Earth Painting.” He created the process out of a moment of inspiration and began experimenting and manipulating red soil. Over the past 24 years, he has developed his technique and expanded his materials to create unique mediums, colors, and application processes for soil art. The minerals in soil lend original colors to his works and allow the work to shimmer when illuminated, creating an exquisite effect and impression. Dojoong holds a Master of Fine Arts from Chung-Ang University in Western Painting. He has devoted his life to art since he won the 16th Korea National Art Exhibition in 1967 when he was a freshman in college. He is the youngest painter in Korean history to receive an ‘honorable mention’.
Luca Curci – What’s your background? What is the experience that has influenced your work the most?
Soilart Jo-Dojoong – “It was late fall 25 years ago. One day, I found a red flower blooming on the promenade. When I got closer, it wasn’t a flower, but a ‘clump of dirt’ the size of an apple. The reddish, fist-sized soil is so dazzlingly beautiful. It was a color I had never seen before. There were colors that could not be expressed with paint.” From then on, I began to ponder intensely about the soil, the mother of life. Analysis of the properties of others, classifying colors and making them. Quartz, feldspar, mica, and calcite in loess are oxidized together with iron. It gives a variety of colors, including yellow, purple, red, gray, and pale green. This chemistry was nothing more than a compass for my quest. I also found out that the minerals in the soil give my work a unique color, and when illuminated, the minerals in the work make it sparkle, giving an exquisite effect and impression. That mysterious color, the various living things in the soil that it embraces, Even the solar energy and subtle lunar energy contained in the soil are polyhedral, The soil that was like a jewel was loess. This was the experience and opportunity that led me to start soil art.
LC – Which subject are you working on?
SJD – The subject of my work is knar: a wound on a tree. Trees secrete sap to heal when they are sick, when the juice hardens, it becomes knar. It is both wound and healing, the cycle of life. A knar has many shapes, sometimes it looks realistic, sometimes it looks abstract. It is the image of eternity that I longed for one day, when the time God has given me runs out, I will return to eternity. I want to put on my canvas an image of eternity that I will see there someday.
LC – How is being an artist nowadays?
SJD – There are colors that are so rare that even if I wrestle with the soil day and night, they disappear with just one brush. Choosing the color of the earth, mixing it with water, and transferring it to the canvas is a process of realizing my shortcomings and weakness. When I first started working with soil, it had been 10 years since I was buried in the deep countryside away from the city center to obtain and sort soil. Have I been out to the city center once or twice during that time? The workspace in the mountains where I lived for 10 years did not even have tap water, so I used a hose connected to the valley water. I’ve been doing hard work for a long time that nobody notices. This was a process of finding originality. But now I have broken the recluse and live in the city center with my son. I got my first exhibition offer at agora gallery in New York after my SNS was activated in 2021. Since then, I have received exhibition proposals from 10 galleries in Europe and the United States, and have held several exhibitions. I’m so happy that my work has taken interest from all over the world. I am very happy now.
LC – Do visitors’ suggestions enrich yourself and your art?
SJD – It is often heard that a work of art “moves” the mind, which is an accurate expression. It is an immediate emotion that follows the reflection of the spectator’s mental and unconscious. In this way, I see the action of direct judgment that makes you feel the “movement of the mind” as “empathy. It can be said that empathy is when the viewer involuntarily projects himself or herself onto an external object. The object can be a human, another living thing, or an inanimate object. In this process, the viewer becomes ‘identified’ with the object and experiences the same nature as it is. We fly with birds, we bend our bodies with trees in the wind and glisten in the morning dew with little cute red raspberries. In a word, it is to enter the object and feel it together. In this way, the value of art is revealed when the artist and the audience are interdependent. I exhibited my work at the Venice International Art Fair, on the other side of the globe from my hometown. And because of you all viewing this work, my art has become richer because you have seen it.
LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it your medium of expression?
SJD – I started ‘soil art’ in 1997 using soil as a material for painting. At that time, the focus was on the expression method of the color and texture of the natural soil, which was different from oil painting. At this time, a lot of yellow-red soil was used in the works. If this is my first period, my second period started in 2015. The changes since 2015 are as follows. First, the diversification of soil materials. Second, find my own topic. Third, is the emergence of abstract figures. The gray earth color is added, and the overall work is calm. Soil is usually less saturated. However, I was able to find high-saturation soil, and the work was able to give a more intense impression. High-saturated soil was used in two works exhibited at the canvas Venice International Art Fair.
LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this event? How is it connected to the theme of the entire exhibition?
SJD – Environmental issues are becoming more and more important. Environmental problems such as pollution problems, deforestation problems, global warming problems, etc. become more serious as time goes by. We are fighting another global disease called Corona. Since the day will come when everyone will fall into fear, the topic of eco-friendly material will become an issue until the end of mankind. When eco-friendliness becomes the top topic in human history, I believe that my work can become a painting that transforms human history. This work reflects the essence of the times of this era. The subject of the work is knar, but the material from which the work was made, ‘soil’, sends a message to return to nature. There is no nation on this planet that will reject this soil. Everyone knows that this soil follows a mother’s heart through any ethnic group. Is there any other precious nationality in today’s art history that all mankind can sympathize with?
LC – Do you agree with our vision of art and what do you think about the theme of the exhibition?
SJD – I found out that ITSLIQUID group is working to raise public awareness of environmental issues by supporting organizations like UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). It is our job to plant trees, clean the sea and protect wildlife. Art around the world moves in units of a century. The most recent first century has been dominated by pop art, but now is the time to stay stagnant and find a new way. Contemporary art is wandering. The polarization of capitalism has ravaged the human mind with materialism, and mankind is suffering from the disease. We must find beauty through art and purify the turbid world. A beautiful work of art has the power to make it possible. All living things in nature live only the time given by God. I too will live for the time God has given me. The day God takes the time lent me, I will return to eternity. I hope that I will keep that eternity in my heart and paint it on my canvas. If the essence of art is to restore human ‘innocence’ through art, I hope that the wounds of mankind will be healed, that is also the meaning of knar, the subject of my work. Also, I think it will not be much different from the vision pursued by ITSLIQUID. “Every time I found a color in the ground, I prayed and prayed”. I always prayed to God to give me the wisdom to paint a picture that cannot be seen in this world. And knar works were born.
LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
SJD – Even in Korea, I was an artist close to the unknown. Because I was not wealthy, I could hardly hold exhibitions. However, with the development of SNS, I was able to participate in international art events and introduce my work through platforms such as ITSLIQUID, which globalize the language of art and connect artists from around the world. I am very happy and honored that my work can be exhibited in the contemporary art space of THE ROOM Venice and in various historical buildings.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us?
SJD – The opportunity to exhibit my work in Venice, one of the most historic cities for the arts, was a very unique exhibition experience. The exhibition hall was spacious and beautiful with a unique atmosphere, and also a unique view from the window. Everyone on the ITSLIQUID team was kind to me so it made me feel good. It was a pleasure to collaborate with you, and if possible, I would like to continue collaborating with ITSLIQUID.