Thursday, December 29, 2016

Younghee Choi Martin: Unconscious!

Younghee Choi Martin, 2008, Thunder of Spring, oil on linen,  74  x 101"

Younghee was in my sophomore painting class at RISD. I had just transferred from Skidmore. It was a very interesting class with a lot of really powerful and diverse painters. Just what I was looking for. And in a very interesting class of powerful and diverse painters, Younghee Choi Martin stood out. You might say that she was the one. I think everybody thought so. And in that really nice way that things sometimes happen, she didn't act like she was that person, she didn't act like she was the star.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2004, Fall of Troy, oil on linen,  61 x 80"

But as cut throat and competitive as RISD was in general and this class in particular, Younghee Choi Martin was the painter everyone was looking over their shoulder at, wondering what she was doing, how she was seeing and painting what they were all seeing and painting. The year was 1974, the place was the Bank Building's giant painting studio, and the teacher was Lorna Ritz.

Younghee Choi Martin, 1999, Violet Air, oil on linen,  23 x 26"

Everybody was good. Everybody brought something to the table. Even the people who seemed forced into the shade were good and offered a unique vision. But Ritz liked playing students against each other to get results. She liked playing favorites to get results. She was that kind of teacher. Lazy. Mean. But even though Younghee was probably the favorite of the favorites, she never acted like it, or even went along with it. She was completely interested in what everyone else was doing.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2012, Grief into Joy, oil on linen,  18 x 18"

The favorites were all women. A correction for a male dominated art world. Ritz made some of the toughest guys in the class cry. She was legend for it. I had the strange honor of being the only guy included in one of her weekly all women exhibits of the class's work that she would curate in the library. Otherwise she regularly insulted me with her squeaky little voice and smile. I say all this because it made Youngee's humility that much more striking.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2011, Here is the Meadow Where We Started, Small I,
oil on linen,  15 x 22"

I didn't know Younghee well, but she was always friendly, and a friend of friends. The little I had heard about her was that this very gifted painter had had a hard life. That she still had a hard life. That she lived in a crappy apartment in a crappy part of Providence, without heat. At least that is what I remember. She was way too skinny in that way that says undernourished. But undernourished or not, in the Bank Building, painting, she was a spirit possessed.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2007, Orestes' Revelation, oil on linen,  30 x 34"

We bumped into each other in New York occasionally years later, still a friend of friends, and she was still alive and painting. The same spirit possessed with a brush in her hand. Our mutual friend Carol Heft, herself a gifted painter from that Bank Building class, has always stayed close to Younghee. Today they show in adjacent galleries in New York City's Chelsea gallery district. The Blue Mountain and Bowery on 25th.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2007, Memory of Dawn, oil on linen,  9 x 12"

To say that Younghee's work is still the same sounds like a put down, except that she was always good. Anyone who knows me gets that I am free and easy with hyperbole, but also that I generally steer clear of comparisons, and comparative language. Bad, good, better, best. Younghee might be the quiet exception. Quiet, perhaps to her detriment. Quiet, definitely to her detriment if the objective is fame and fortune.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2012, Ascent, oil on linen,  36 x 45"

Younghee could probably paint the pants off of any painter out there dead or living and they would know it. The Resnicks and Pollocks of this world, no pants. I won't mention the living so as not to embarrass anyone, but we all know who we are.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2012, Here is the Meadow Where We Started,
 oil on linen,  74 x 112"

Unconscious is a word people use to compliment someone's work sometimes, especially athletes. That's Younghee Choi Martin. Unconscious! High praise.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2006, Arcadia, oil on linen,  47 x 54"

She paints classical themes. I am not sure why. I could guess. Excuse to make a painting. They read abstractly but they are figures in a setting, a landscape. Maybe she delights in the stories. Maybe she loves the masters. Maybe she likes the way figures like shapes interact in a space. But stroke for stroke she brings paint to life like the first creature that climbed out of the primordial ooze.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2012, Riverbanks, oil on linen,  81 x 80"

Why some dealer somewhere hasn't given her a parade I will never know. Why the Whitney hasn't called her number is beyond me. Younghee Choi Martin has always been something special.

Younghee Choi Martin, 2004, Thunder of Spring, oil on linen,  75 x 100"

Addison Parks
Artdeal Magazine
Spring Hill, December 2016

Younghee Choi Martin

Younghee Choi Martin, 2004, Nabi Gallery, New York

Younghee Choi Martin, 2012, Bowery Gallery

No comments: