By Paul Gessell
During a recent visit to the Canada Council Art Bank, I fell in love with a magical painting by Jinny Yu, an associate professor of visual art at the University of Ottawa.
At a giant six feet by six feet, there was a lot to love.
This new acquisition by the Art Bank had echoes of 1960s op art but with a far more contemporary feel. The green and black geometric shapes painted on a sheet of aluminum also spoke of computerized circuit boards or intersecting DNA tracks. They formed a complex puzzle that, if stared at too long, would begin to dance before your eyes.
The painting is called Story of a Global Nomad (De Vonk I). Its creator certainly is a global nomad. Yu was just 12 when she came with her family from South Korea to Montreal. She was educated at Concordia University in Montreal, York University in Toronto; for the last six years, she has been teaching in Ottawa.
Yu’s art has also sent her abroad, appearing in exhibitions from South Korea to Italy. Most recently, she completed a six-month residency, courtesy of the Canada Council for the Arts, at New York’s International Studio and Curatorial Program. She is definitely marked for great things.
While in New York, Yu began a new body of work. She’s not one to paint the same picture over and over again. Instead, she prefers to jump into the unknown. The results can be seen in her new exhibition, appropriately called Jinny Yu: Latest from New York, at Patrick Mikhail Gallery.
For this exhibition, Yu has taken industrial aluminum sheets of varying sizes. Most are painted with a series of crude, overlaying brushstrokes. The technique gives the flat surface a mesmerizing three-dimensional quality. You almost feel you can walk right into the paintings.
The most successful are the more sculptural works. For those, Yu has bent the aluminum sheets in such a way they seem anthropomorphic and ready to waddle across the floor.
The works in this show have no particular narrative. They are simply paintings about painting. Ordinarily, I have little interest in “paintings about painting.” Such works usually seem self-indulgent and tend to demonstrate a lack of fresh ideas. Yu’s work is different. Her aluminum art adds a new vocabulary to the language of painting. They take painting into a new dimension. That is a rare quality, indeed.
This is Yu’s first solo show at Patrick Mikhail Gallery, which is increasingly becoming the commercial space to see the best contemporary art in Ottawa. Two of Mikhail’s other stars are Andrew Morrow and Amy Schissel, who both happen to be former students of Yu at the University of Ottawa.
Can Yu see her influence in the work of Morrow and Schissel?
“I hope not,” says Yu. A good painting instructor helps a student fine-tune his or her own style, she says, not force a style upon a student.
In Yu’s case, one of Quebec’s most celebrated painters, the late Guido Molinari, helped fine-tune her style while at Concordia. Molinari is most famous for his brightly-coloured 1960s paintings that flirt with op art.
Does Molinari’s influence reveal itself in Yu’s magical painting at the Art Bank? That is difficult to say. What is certain is that Yu is far more daring than Molinari ever was.
Jinny Yu: Latest from New York. Until Nov. 2. Patrick Mikhail Gallery, 2401 Bank St., www.patrickmikhailgallery.com