When you first look at the painting, ‘Westlake Sunset’, you cannot help smiling, here is West Lake but as it has never been portrayed before. Your eyes are drawn in turn to familiar elements, houses set in the hills, a bridge, the lovers on the bench, a boat sailing serenely on the lake and a fish it seems frolicking out of sheer joy. However, the perspective of the painting, with the trees on the right almost horizontal, gives it a surreal air. There’s something else though, ask yourself, ‘where am I?’ and more importantly ‘who am I?’ now take a few steps back and look again and then you see it. I am a bird flying above West Lake, observing this scene and there in the middle of the lake is my reflection; welcome to the world of Jina.
It is not only the name that brings birds to mind as they are a recurring symbol in Jina’s work and sometimes are painted clearly, a central part of the painting, but often represented in an abstract way, for example, by featherlike patterns. They first appeared in her work in April 2002 in sketches she’d made but since 2005 they have been an ever present motif in every painting. They can mean different things including hope, life, the soul, freedom and above all love. Also they represent her, a free spirit who not only travels freely from place to place looking for inspiration but also through her imagination takes us to magical places. As she say’s herself, “I stand in the place of the bird and see the world. If one day there are no birds in my paintings then there is no ‘me’ either.”
Looking at her art work it is worth bearing in mind that the path to becoming a professional painter was not an easy one for her. As a child she had shown great interest in drawing but when at high school she decided to choose to study art at university her family were against it. In protest she locked herself in her room deciding not to eat for three days. After one day her father finally agreed to let her study art but only if she promised three things: first, if she started she should never give up, second, she should use her art to help others, and finally that she should not paint solely for fame but make art her partner for life. She readily accepted to all three conditions and entered Dankook University in Korea where she studied oriental painting.
After graduating she was not sure what to paint or in what style as she realised she had little real experience of life. In the meantime she started to play traditional drums in her family’s Korean folk music group. The group is well-known in Korea and over the next few years she played over 250 concerts with them which also allowed her to travel more. It was with the group that she first came to Hangzhou in 2001 for a visit and was so impressed by the city and West Lake that she later moved here. She has lived here for most of the last few years apart from a couple of years spent in Xinjiang and Jilin.
All this time she had been sketching and writing poetry in her notebooks but it was in Hangzhou that she finally started to develop her ideas and paint again. West Lake was an inspiration and many of her sketches feature people and life around there. In fact even paintings which are not about West Lake make people think of it, for example, ‘Parisian Sunset’ which most people assume is Baoshi Hill with Baochu Pagoda being mistaken for the Eiffel Tower. Here she also started to settle on the materials to paint with. She often uses natural materials such as ‘stone powder’ made from ground shells and this helps to ensure colours that are bright and warm without being harsh. She mentions Van Gogh and Chagall as among the artists she admires the most but her style is clearly unique.
Although many of her ideas come from her personal observations some also come from dreams and her imagination which is the reason for the dreamlike quality to her art. Actually, one painting, ‘Pray’, is about a dream and it is fascinating to look at how her early ideas developed leading to the final painting. The painting is about a dream her mother had, when pregnant with her first child, of three cows in a rice field with the sun setting in the background. The first black and white sketch in 1996 was followed by a similar painting soon after. However, it is in the final version painted in 2008 that one can see all the key elements of Jina’s art. Here are the warm colours, the confident brushstrokes, the bird motifs in the sky and on the mother’s clothing, as well as the Korean-inspired patterns on the father’s clothing.
Several of her paintings carry a deeper meaning not obvious to the uninformed observer but her aim is that her paintings should bring comfort and joy to people. She has already had three exhibitions in Hangzhou which have won her many admirers and a future one will be dedicated mainly to paintings about West Lake. Although she plans to travel more in the future she has made Hangzhou her ‘nest’ and plans to stay here long-term. She herself wishes that through her paintings and the birds she can be a messenger of hope and love.
Seungjin Lee chose Jina as her professional name as the Korean nick name from her family.
Jina likes birds, and birds are found in each work she creates, be it as an obvious figure in the foreground, or as subtle sweeping lines behind the central figure(s).The Bird motif represents Jina as an individual, as well as linking earthly life to less tangible realities, and to another common theme - that of dreaming. The power of dreams is represented by circular clouds swirling through the lives of the subject, who often stands with eyes closed. This dream may be a fantasy, a wish for the future, or a road to destiny. Daisies often grow at the feet of Jina's subjects, showing personal strength and the power to overcome difficult times. Finally the theme of Family is perhaps the most obvious throughout her works, with many of her paintings including her real-life parents and loved ones. These pieces emanate a great warmth and show the tender link between parents and children.
Jina has been in China for seven years now. Originally she came to study Chinese language; now she divides her time between her studio, based in Hangzhou, and travels to other places where she finds inspiration for her art. For example a recent trip to Provence inspired a new style using oil on canvas, and you may notice some French landscapes among the current collection.
In Korea, her country of origin, Jina is one of a family of talented folk musicians who play traditional Korean instruments. Growing up in such an interesting environment - amongst a family who live, work, study, practice and play together as professionals has made her belief and faith in family strong, while her generosity, and willingness to include others in this close circle is certainly endearing. It’s obvious that Jina's parents are a strong influence and source of guidance in her life - her mother is the epitome of home-life, with gentle concern, a great sense of humour, and wonderful cooking skills, while her Father is firm but fair, and has a real passion for traditional Korean culture and values. When Jina's elder brother married, his wife, another musician, became part of the family ensemble, and it seems that these family bonds can only grow stronger with time.
Jina lives life with great passion. The many varied colours in her paintings represent her personal warmth and vibrance, and her wish to make the world a better place through art. The collection of dreams, carried on the wings of birds, show the flight of her mind through time and space, and desire to find her destiny. And finally her exploration of new themes and styles are juxtaposed against traditional images of family life, showing her williness to love, and her high level of personal integrity.