Jeong Woojae: Constant Companion

26 March - 7 June 2020

South Korean painter, Jeong Woojae's subject is a particular, surreal relationship: he makes pictures of a girl and her gigantic dog. These are photo-realistic paintings of the pair acting out scenarios of companionship in a contemporary, urban landscape. The compositions evoke disparate themes of isolation, protection and mutuality.


Woojae's pictorial style implies that these scenes are possible. Such a creature could not exist in real life, but he takes pains to articulate light, space, texture and form in a way which sets up a credible and compelling illusion. The artist's ability to conjure up a realistic and convincing mis-en-scene is a testament to his technical virtuosity.


His carefully-realised representations of figure and environment suggest that this huge animal is tangible, if only to the girl. It is a looming presence, a guardian angel, alert and watchful, shadowing her every excursion into the outside world.


It can also be interpreted as a manifestation of the id, the barely-tamed ball of powerful, instinctive emotion lurking close to all, whatever they may appear to be. We infer that this force is universal, waiting around every corner, present at all encounters and not necessarily a force for good. The slight and rather vulnerable young woman has access to a resource of which we should all be wary.


These images of human fragility matched with animal power, startling in their disjointed juxtaposition, express an idea of our dual nature, contradictory but complementary. The dog is a virtual companion. It cannot possibly be real. The artist has, however, painted it as such and is insisting on its importance and its materiality. He seems to be making a plea to take the animal seriously, not just as a human avatar - a vehicle for human emotion - but also for itself.