ARTIST STATEMENT: The familiar outlaw scurries through the tiny cracks, carrying with it a sickness. Not only its ugliness, but also its abundant fertility and enduring resilience are met with revulsion. It is not welcomed by anyone. Indeed, it is despised. Artist Juyeul Choe abhors it. Nevertheless, he often prefaces discourse on life and his art with talk of the creature — with the story of the cockroach.
One day at home, I saw a cockroach. At the end of the ensuing chase the thing was dead, and upon inspecting its carcass I made a discovery: wings! Of the several thousand varieties of cockroaches in the world, only a few have wings, and one of them was in my home. Did this roach realize it could fly? Staring at the lifeless form that had been scurrying around only a moment ago, I became curious. Why didn’t it fly? Why did something with wings subject itself to a foot race? Why did it seek out the smallest and dampest of cavities instead of escaping toward the light? Was it trapped in the dark by the fear of a larger, scarier creature that lived without? Were those wings, unique to itself, ever utilized? Or, did it feel the weight of them as a burden? That was the moment. The dead roach began to writhe, and it spoke. “I am not a cockroach. I am you.”
Born to this world against all odds and into fierce competition, the typical child is expected to have a bright future. If they are to believe in a dream, in their own talents, they must move their little wings. As they experience this life their vision of the future will become dark, tinged by the critical gaze of others, the collective feeling of their time, and the everyday failures of life. The talent and curiosity that was once a source of pride inevitably becomes their burden to carry, and will sit idly on their backs like the failed wings of a cockroach. They succumb not to the trappings of real failure but of self-made fear.
To the artist, Juyeul Choe, painting is using the wings on his back — forgotten since high school — and escaping to a new sanctuary. He doesn’t necessarily plan his path before starting work on a piece. Instead, using analogue rather than digital media, he leaves his signature in honest expressions of emotion and texture. Perhaps this is why the artist’s paintings cannot be fully understood. The boundary between incomplete and complete fades away as he scribbles what might be at once intentional or accidental drawings in sketchbooks, textbooks, fliers, boxes, and on walls. Two-dimensional lines dance together, sometimes open and sometimes closed. Or they are geometric and organic in form, freely floating facets, that may join layers to create a three-dimensional space. Drawings by Choe often resemble faces or letters, and depending on the person they may incite laughter or tears, eventually being reborn with a perspective contrary to the artist’s own. There is no need to read into their philosophical meaning or social commentary. By following the lines from end to end, it’s possible to enter a new, disparate dimension, existing outside the noise around us, that within us, and the stress of life. Having escaped into the unknown, we will be met with indescribable emotions, or come face to face with our intrinsic subconscious.
Seeing the scribblings of his that were once overlooked, Choe rediscovered his old passion for drawing. The first time he held a brush after his first-year high school art class was the basis of his thesis at SVA: ‘Fear of Failure.’ Constantly torn between artistic passion and curiosity and an uncertain fear of the world, he quit his commercial-oriented job at a design firm. Since then, he has been following the path of fine arts.