Jiha Moon: Peach pit

Saltworks exhibition offers a state of grace

For a time in the 1990s, the word "hybridity" was the kind of academic buzzword that burned up the tenure circuit. Hybridity attested to identity that was fluid, complex and not easily boiled down to one "essence."

Well, Jiha Moon's paintings are hybrid and then some, influenced by East and West, drawing and painting, the ancient and the modern. And Moon's solo show at Saltworks Gallery combines wildly different moods, too. Wry and solemn, reserved and mischievous, it would be an understatement to say there's a lot going on in the work. The Atlanta-based artist's cultural references come fast and furious, and encompass modern animation, traditional handmade Korean hanji paper, anime, ancient Asian art, geishas, dragons, telecommunications, gossamer ribbon and Disney blue birds.

And then there is that icon known to all residents of the Peach State: the lurid peach with the sexual split down its back. It is clear, from looking at Moon's paintings, that she is a woman whose interests lie in dynamism and seeing the connections, rather than the differences between past and present. The ghosts of Salvador Dalí, Inka Essenhigh and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves are all in the house.

Moon's scenes are often painted on a windshield-shaped, fan form that telegraphs her interest in the traditional. Exceedingly subtle and dreamlike, her imagery emerges from a soft, watery backdrop like the vague fog of history. But her foregrounds are dominated by punk-rock hues: acid green, turquoise and a shade of hot pink rarely found outside of a can or tube. Strange forms emerge from her paintings: organ shapes in blood red, pink nipples, tumescent clouds and cute-sexy-strange metamorphosing forms that play with our desire for representation.

Eyes, sharp-fanged mouths and absurdly elongated tongues emerge out of that painterly ether like film-noir fatales stepping out of the waterfront fog. Moon's works straddle two worlds, one ancient and one contemporary, but their most intriguing quality is their refusal to decamp in either one.

Instead, there is mystery and a sense of flux and constant change even within these static pieces. In one work, Moon has taken the natural next step in her fluid, mutating paintings, of allowing her tendrils and bamboo leaves to bleed from her paintings onto the gallery walls.

But in many ways that spillage of the paint onto the walls is unnecessary: It is clear there is chaos and growth and a barely contained energy lurking in all of her work.

No Peach Heaven: MuRungDowan. New Works by Jiha Moon. Through Feb. 22. Free. Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. and by appointment. Saltworks Gallery, 635 Angier Ave. 404-876-8000. www.saltworksgallery.com.

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