Before there was the Internet, there was pre-Internet, and anything before that, well, that’s a job for Google. Having recently uttered the words “back in my day,” to my own quarter-life surprise and chagrin, I realized how lucky I was to have been birthed pre-Internet, pre-iPhone, pre-emoji. While most of us hold our precious images on the web or stored in kilobytes on cold, pocket-sized hard drives—digital nostalgia of our first date, first kiss, and first born—I’m happy to find myself frozen within an old, discolored photograph next to an array of other aging, tactile snapshots on light-sensitive paper, each neatly arranged within a dusty leather-bound album. There is character in the prints, a warm fuzziness that would have otherwise been lost between images 3456.jpg and 3458.jpg. The album itself holds memories dear and close, memories linked to the leather’s smell and tangibility.
The paintings of Paige Jiyoung Moon convey a keen awareness to the importance of keeping the past emotionally alive. Born and raised in Seoul, Korea, she paints what she dares not forget—friends, family, places, and herself. These painted memories, crisp and clear in each intricate rug pattern, in every object on every desk, beg the question: How do you remember? I sat down with the prolific artist at one of her favorite coffee shops in Pasadena to explore the meaning behind the miniature worlds she‘s created so far.
She takes her coffee black and I, having not eaten yet, buy a couple muffins, and we make our way outside. Out on the patio, the pantone of low-slung winter sky befits Moon’s muted scarf and pale skin. At 30, the California-based artist holds the youthful demeanor of a burgeoning girl, with soft, brown eyes and chapped lips, she doesn’t look a day over 20. I shove the muffins into my bag and don’t touch them for the rest of the interview.
“I love the honesty in your work,” I say. “I feel like you don’t like to leave anything out—every detail included is very purposeful and telling about you as an artist, and as a Korean woman.”
Her phone buzzes on the table, but she ignores it, her eyes locked on mine.
“I started painting my people and my friends,” she tells me. “Thinking about what’s interesting to me, what’s important. I have friends here [in California] and friends in Korea. If I hang out here with my friends I want to remember what makes me happy. I started sketching about what I did or who I met and thinking about memories. That’s how I started.”
There is an unequivocal quality in her voice that I find comforting—a sincerity nearly forgotten in my daily encounters with Johnny Depp impersonators and starry-eyed Starbucks baristas, with ravenous model/actors and their Hollywood desperation, all the newsroom terror buzzing through the airwaves like static. I notice she hasn’t touched her coffee.
“How do you choose the moments you paint?” I ask.
“If I go somewhere and I think that place has nice color or nice interiors, I think maybe I can paint that area with somebody I’m with at the time. Then I start sketching.”
“And the discipline in your work, where does it come from?
“Korean parents are very stubborn,” she says, laughing. “But I guess that’s like most parents.”
She quickly pokes at her phone and looks up at me. In what I can only assume is an effort to uphold her acute politeness, she has yet to touch her coffee.
“I wanted to paint everything to remember.”
“What’s the story behind the Acupuncture painting?” I ask.
“I went to Sequoia for hiking with my friend and we hiked for, like, twelve miles a day. At the time my knee was bad, but then after hiking it got worse so I had to go to acupuncture.”
She licks her lips and looks away for a moment, reflectively. “It was Chinese acupuncture. When I went inside it was very interesting. I went there a few times, but I didn’t have any pictures, so I had to paint from memory. A few items I had to search for—like, what they write on the drawers—on the Internet.”
“You place viewers right in the room with you. Why do you choose such ambitious angles when you paint?”
“I didn’t really think about the angle of the paintings,” she says. “But then people starting asking me, Why are your angles like that? I was thinking maybe I want to get every detail from that room or space.”
She furrows her brow and looks skyward, not a streak of sunlight to be seen. An ambulance followed by an onslaught of noisy cop cars races by, muffling her diffident enunciations. We laugh and wait quietly for it to pass.
I ask, “Can you talk about the painting where you’re eating lunch with your family?”
“That was when I went back to Korea after graduation, and eating just normal lunch or dinner with my family is not normal to me because I was so far from there for, like, five years during Art Center [College of Design]. Anything with my family or friends in Korea, those times were pretty special to me. I wanted to paint everything to remember. I couldn’t do all of them, but that one…” She trails off. “My dad’s favorite lunch is pork belly, and we were about to move to a new apartment, so I wanted to remember that apartment, the living room.”
“That’s really sweet,” I say. “You just create art for yourself.”
She smiles and nods.
“What artists are you looking at?”
“My friends,” she says. “I just went to Jonas Wood’s show in L.A.—and David Hockney is my all-time favorite artist.”
“What else are you interested in?”
“I like movies,” she tells me. “Any kind of movie. Except scary movies.”
I tell her that I love being scared and that thrillers are my favorite. I’ve often wondered how there are some people who refuse to watch a scary movie. How they close their eyes during the best parts. I think about the fragility of the heart, how a momentary rhythmic hiccup can stop the blood flow to the brain and lungs, causing loss of consciousness and sudden death. I can see how someone wouldn’t want to take their chances.
“What influences your work?” I ask.
“Good color, people…maybe wine.”
Featured Image: “Pear Lake,” (January 2014) Acrylic on canvas. 10 x 10 inches. Courtesy the artist.
Paige Jiyoung Moon was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1984. She moved to California to study Illustration in 2008 and completed her BFA at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California in 2012. She currently lives and works in Pasadena, California. You can view more of her work at www.paigemoon.com and follow her on Instagram @paigemoon.