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About Se

Baltimore City

Se Cho's picture
(Born in Seoul, South Korea, 1978)   Se Jong paints to explore the extent of her imagination and to expand her ability to express it. She subscribes to the idea that art is a collective process, and hopes that her work can trigger the audience to explore the depths of their conscious minds beyond the representations in the physical world. Shows ·      Logical Magic // July, 2014 // windup space // Baltimore, MD ·      Light Undulation //... more

Matisse in bath

Interpreting Matisse

I first saw Matisse’s “Large Reclining Nude” at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Next to the painting, there is an explanatory plaque, showing how Matisse transitioned from precise depictions of the figure to more abstracted colors and shapes. It struck me that this generalization required rigor and imagination, and I decided to explore Mattisse’s paintings as a way to expand my understanding of creative expression.

Impressionists brought brilliant colors back to Western art after a period of realism, where light and shadow prevailed over color. Japanese ukiyo-e art prints influenced Impressionist painters, and this is evident not only in the colors, but also in the style and subject matter. Likewise, Matisse’s work is evocative of the flatness and colors of Japanese art, but also is reminiscent of decorative Islamic art, and sculptural African art. Through the synthesis of multiple cultures, Matisse created art works that tantalize and inspire so many people to this day.

My experiment in interpreting Matisse’ work is inspired by this possibility for synthesis across multiple ideologies and cultures. There is an advise from Cezanne to “deal with nature by means of the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone.” I approach painting with an appreciation for the complexities of our reality as a scientist, and I solve the challenge of representing this complexity. Einstein said, everything should be “made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Painting Matisse interpretations presented me with the challenge of painting full continuous figures, which I had never done, and I approached this challenge by meeting a compromise between Matisse’ beautiful generalization of figure and my proclivity toward precision. I wanted these paintings to echo Matisse’s shapes and colors, but also create something new by merging my identity as an Asian woman and a scientist with Matisse’s.

Problems with nudes

Nudes are problematic and I was hesitant to create images that reinforce the particular existence of women that has been prevalent in the usage and conventions of Western art. From Berger’s Ways of Seeing: “To be born a woman has been to be born…into keeping of men… A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping.” In other words, women are less present than seen. Take Matisse’ reclining nude, for example; it’s a picture of a naked woman who is posing because she is aware of the surveyors’ gaze, including Matisse’s. So, I was conflicted about creating female nudes as objects to be seen. Painting these nudes, however, forced me to think about the implications of male gaze in women’s lives and how to resolve them in my own work.

How do I preclude the male gaze in female nude paintings? I concluded that if the figures are present, and are comfortable with their presences, then they are not merely posing to be seen; rather, they are daring to take up space in the world.

Traditional female nudes are often supine as if they lack strong spine to stand by herself. You take away the spine; women nevertheless survive, maybe with new found strength. In these paintings, the figures are quite spineless, but this spinelessness allows for certain vitality, with figures lunging, sliding, and jumping. The absence of features and orifices came about as a whim, but this strategy allowed me to avoid assigning individuality to these figures. In fact, they are not individuals; they are not even humans. They are derivatives of me, and all the things I have seen in my life with my female eyes.

These nudes were also fun to paint. Georgia O’Keefe never meant to paint human vulvae with her flowers, and insisted that her skulls were not meant to convey death; they were simply “nice things” to paint. I approached these nudes the same way. The nudes were fun to paint with all the complexity of bones and muscles hidden under the layer of skin.

Modularity space

…We should realize within ourselves the pure being of pure imagination. It becomes clear that works of art are the by-product of this existentialism of the imagining being.

-Gaston Bachelard

We are in the business of defining a direct ontology through presentation of works with its own entity and dynamism of its own. Sometimes, the presentation of this direct ontology consists of the outputs of this exercise of defining; sometimes, it is a curation of constituents that embody deep emotional reverberation; sometimes, it is precise recording and interpretation of events expressed through mathematical language. Possibilities of this discovery are immense.

I aim to explore the intimacy in this immensity of possibilities through the presentation of spaces that we live in, where we also collect the images for our dreams. It is through the crystallization of our memories of spaces, we have the vocabularies for our imagining. Subsequently, our imagination provides the context in which we transform our experiences into dreams.

  • Fullmoonbedroom.jpg

    Modularity space 1: Full moon bedroom (2018) 12”x12” Pencil on paper
  • Mercurylounge.jpg

    Modularity space 4: Mercury lounge (2018) 12”x12” Pencil on paper
  • Marslounge.jpg

    Modularity space 2: Mars lounge (2018) 12”x12” Pencil on paper Private collection
  • Earthroom.jpg

    Modularity space 5: Earth feather (2018) 12”x12” Pencil on paper

in/outside of room/f

When the peaks of our sky come together
My house will have a roof.
-Paul Eluard, Dignes de vivre, Julliard, Paris, p. 115

You can read a room, or you can read a house. Both are psychological diagram that guide artists in their analysis of intimacy[1].

The artist used the rooms and roofs as a context for her to explore intuition. The placements of the objects inside of a room or outside on a roof are arbitrary with no symbolic gestures. Jung, in “depths of the unknown:” intuition is our interface with the whole of our potential.2 She used intuition to achieve harmoniousness, using whatever ability she has, in the spaces portrayed. The result is a certain style: a precise depiction of objects using controlled color selection. Cocteau writes: “Style is the soul, and unfortunately with us the soul assumes the form of the body” in refuting the decorative encumbrance any work of art with style may face. These paintings are things depicted through a certain style that should be experienced, because there is no content in these paintings, but hopefully they will excite or captivate the audience. This is the most intimate way the artist can connect with the audience.


[1] Bachelard, G., Stilgoe, J.R., 1994. The Poetics of Space, Reprint edition. ed. Beacon Press, Boston.

Evaporative images

Like a mass of condensed water vapor floating in the atmosphere, sound hangs in the air.

“Art is the game of extending our ‘shape of real’ without the necessity of present practical affirmation.”[1]

Paintings are static but musical composition (not on paper but in the air) is dynamic. Therefore, while the representations of the clouds are static, we invite the audience to imagine the dynamic and constant transformation of clouds as the sound atmospherically evolves around them. The dual installation of sound and images is intended to involve audience in multiple modes of participation, stimulating both visual and auditory senses thereby creating an environment where emersion is possible. Rather than the audience merely looking into pictorial boxes as an external examiner, we invite the audience to experience the visual images as a context for extending the shape of real through synthesis of their memories of shapes of real.


[1] Irwin, R. Notes toward a Conditional Art. (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2011).

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