ECLIPSE: INFINITE ENDING
SE JONG CHO
March 25th - May 15th, 2021
Catalyst Contemporary is pleased to present Eclipse: Infinite Ending, a solo exhibition of Se Jong Cho’s surrealist paintings that meld solar eclipses, stunning flora, heavenly clouds, and inexplicably shifting planes of existence. Cho is an environmental engineer who embraces science’s counterpoint, art and creativity, and paints forms that offer an intriguing entryway into the surreal, an artform that is equally concerned with reality (based in science) and with the mind’s unconscious thoughts (where creativity exists). Cho’s works sit at the intersection of dreams and reality.
The central theme in Cho’s exhibition at Catalyst is the solar eclipse, specifically, one that the artist experienced in 2017. The giant orange orb and the moon’s shadow are the through-line in these enigmatic images, which are aligned in the gallery to exhibit the phasing of the sun during this celestial event. Seen in various stages of its passage as the Earth rotates around the sun and the moon rotates around the Earth, the glowing orb takes on the form of a giant monocular eye. The botanical specimens fill the canvas and in each the sun relates differently. In Darwin’s Orchid, the orb sprouts from its center; in Bird of Paradise it is cradled gently; in Blue Pin Cushion it is tenuously tethered like a rising balloon. The scales of each element create a cognitive dissonance suggesting perhaps we can’t trust our perception, or that at the very least we may be taking it for granted. Whether hosted in a floating room, behind mysterious plinths, or framed by a botanical specimen that fills the picture plane, the sun brings together concerns about the fragility of human existence in a world and universe that we have no hope of controlling. It’s also a cohesive element, a universal presence in our human experience, tying our prehistoric origins to our future.
If control over the sun and our existence in the world is impossible, at least the physical world is understandable through a scientific framework that quantifies problems objectively. But humans judge everything from their own vantage points, including art, which is entirely subjective. Is it possible for one person, the artist whose mind and feet are in both camps, to bring together both concerns in a way that conveys the harmony of two disparate realities? Cho’s work reminds us that the sun is central to sustaining our existence, and eclipses are a spectacular and unusual reminder of the celestial body’s centrality. The juxtapositions remind us that perception is entirely individual. Further, the work infers that all living things—plants, animals, and humans alike—are dependent on each other and on the power of the star we call the sun.
Se Jong Cho (b. Seoul, South Korea, 1978) is a Baltimore-based painter and environmental scientist. Cho is a self-taught artist who began painting in 2013 as a way to explore the intersection of her imagination and her experience as a scientist. Cho has had solo exhibitions at Terrault Gallery, Current Space, Project 1628, Open Space, Metro Gallery, and Windup Space in Baltimore. Cho holds a B.S. in Civil Engineering from Northwestern University, 2003; M.S. in Environmental Engineering from Johns Hopkins University, 2009; M.S.E in Environmental Management and Economics, from Johns Hopkins University, 2014; and a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering and Policy Analysis, from Johns Hopkins University, 2017.
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