Jeeyeon Koo's Story Behind the Art

How did you go about selecting a subject for the Bartram exhibition?
I first heard about the Following in the Bartrams' Footsteps exhibition from the ASBA Journal two years ago, and I became very interested in the exhibition. In order to find an appropriate subject, I researched the Bartram's Garden plant list, but it was difficult to find a native U.S. plant from Korea. So, I instead focused on the plants on the secondary priority list of the exotic plants. However, as the submission deadline approached, I thought again about the exhibition and looked through my past work to see if there is a painting that featured a native U.S. plant. Luckily, there was one botanical painting that featured a species from the Bartram's Garden plant list. I feel very fortunate that this species was chosen for the exhibition.
Why did you choose this specific subject to portray?
This painting was the only one that featured the species required by the exhibition. I first saw this plant at the New York Botanical Garden in 1999. At that time, I frequently spent time drawing in the Native Garden of NYBG because I was interested in the native U.S. plants. This plant had a very complex floral structure that I had never encountered before, which was why I decided to portray this subject. This painting is one of my early works that was done when I was studying Botanical Painting at NYBG and I finished this one by doing lots of field sketch and color note and by repeatedly checking its natural color.
How would you describe the artwork so that someone who hasn't seen it could visualize it?
Although it has been a while since I painted this one, I still vividly remember that the flowers of this species were visited by a large number of pollinating bees when I was sitting in front of them, drawing. I remember being very afraid of being stung by these bees that were buzzing around the flowers as if fighter jets were descending rapidly. I also remember the fragrant minty scent from the flowers that had both pink and green colors. It was as if I was getting an aroma therapy. This plant had a delicate, yet very complex shape.
Is there anything you'd like to comment on about the color, composition, media or technique you used in the work?
When I was working on this painting, I tried very hard to describe the accurate color of the live specimen. Of course, I had to express the delicacy of color, in consideration of the color change depending on the light, as well as the depth of field within the plant. I also wanted to express the plant at its best, so I placed the plant in the center of the canvas. In terms of techniques, I used the tea wash technique for adding layers of color very lightly and the dry brush technique to make the painting clear. For medium, I used water color. I also included the drawing of dissected specimen in the painting to give the plain structure of the plant some more dynamics.
What would you hope people would notice or appreciate when they view this work?
The plant in the painting may look like an uninteresting weedy plant, but it possesses a very fragrant scent, which I think is the plant's way of expressing itself. Insects certainly know the importance of the plant and collect its nectar and pollen. Although this plant is not elegant or exquisite, but it is quietly beneficial to humans and insects, and I hope that the audience can recognize this plant as an unselfish and unconditional plant. 
Did you face any unique challenges as you worked on this piece?
Throughout the process of working on this painting, I struggled a lot to express the plant's complex shape. The detailed expression of small parts was especially difficult. I had to observe the plant with so much concentration almost to the point that I wanted to give up. But, the difficulty became a challenge to me, which was how I was able to finish the painting. At times, it was a pleasure to dissect the flower and clearly described the shape of the flower and anthers. However, after I finished this painting, I actually did not like to look at he painting because it reminded me of the pains that I had to endure to finish it.
How does this piece relate to your body of work?
Although this painting was done a long time ago, I am still continuing in the same type of botanical painting. Perhaps because it is my earlier work, it actually has more simplicity and delicacy than my current work. 
Anything else?
Because of this exhibition, I was reminded of one of my best times, which was when I first encountered botanical art and met precious botanical artists whom I was able to build lasting friendship with. This was the most beautiful time of my life and I am grateful that I could remember this time. Botanical art provided a turning point in my life, and I have developed a deep respect for nature as I learn more about this genre. It is my great honor to be a part of the special Following in the Bartrams' Footsteps Exhibition.
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  • (C) Jeeyeon Koo