JooLee Kang & Mary Kocol Press Release

JooLee Kang: Cultivated
Mary Kocol: A Welcomed Enigma
Mar 6 – 28 at Gallery NAGA

Spring arrives early at Gallery NAGA, ushered in by JooLee Kang and Mary Kocol, who have recently created bodies of work that are inspired by Dutch still-lifes and Japanese floral design.

JooLee Kang: Cultivated and Mary Kocol: A Welcomed Enigma run from March 6 through 28. A reception for the artists and the public will be held at the gallery on Friday, March 6 from 6 to 8 pm.

Kang’s work appears to be delicate, ornamental drawings presented in crisp white frames. If one looks more closely, however, the drawings reveal grotesque and mutated flora and fauna. Often presented as table arrangements one might see in the Victorian era or exquisite bonsai trees, they teem with two-mouthed fish, three-footed birds, and hairless mammals. The line separating animals from plants has all but disappeared, some forms having been completely camouflaged. There’s a sense of foreboding inherent in these somewhat dark drawings, done with a black Bic ballpoint pen. At once delicate and subtle they are also intensely overwrought and obsessive.  

Accompanying and juxtaposing her drawings, Kang has traded in the ballpoint pen for a ceramic pen to create a series of matte, decorative vases. The exteriors present her signature drawing technique but instead of mutated animals, they feature wispy flowers and branches.

Kang comments on her drawings and sculpture, “My works are a metaphor for the close bond between humanity and nature, which are often thought of as being in diametrical opposition, or a relationship of subordination, but are in fact woven together like a single piece of fabric.”

JooLee Kang was born in South Korea and educated in Boston, a 2011 graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts University program. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2013 SMFA Traveling Fellowship, a St. Botolph Club Artist Grant, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Award in Drawing, and a Dana Pond Award in Painting. In 2018 she was the artist-in-residence at the Gyeonggi Creation Center in Gyeonggi-do, Korea and received a Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture Artist Grant.

In recent years, Mary Kocol’s work has shifted focus from the saturated, urban twilight shots that defined her photographs for so long to the wonderment of flowering plants.

 In Kocol’s statement for the exhibition, she explains the work.   “My Welcomed Enigma series is a contemplative examination of the garden as a timeless place to dwell, refresh, and reflect upon the profound beauty of the plants that surround us. Exquisite and luscious details of these simple garden flowers instill wonder. I’m fascinated by the colors, scents, textures, and attributes of plants. They are both fragile and ephemeral yet return year after year. Most of the plants in this exhibition are from typical New England gardens grown by me or family and friends.”

Mary Kocol uses beauty and composition to lure us into a narrative that is dramatic and strange. Kocol’s previous body of work focused on shimmering flower blossoms collected from her own garden as well as the gardens of friends and family, then frozen in ice, and photographed after they thawed.

 Her new work to be exhibited at NAGA begins where her previous work left off. Kocol describes her process, “These scan-o-grams are not made with a traditional camera. The process recalls darkroom days, where we made photograms by placing an object on light sensitive paper and shone light on it to reveal shadows. Here, the plant material is arranged on the glass scanner bed. The scanner’s beam provides even illumination, capturing the objects as they lay on the glass.” The backgrounds of these scan-o-grams are pitch black with the flowers taking center stage. Some are true arrangements, the compositions ordered and balanced while others are anthropomorphic and foreboding, the petals grotesque and twisting.