This spring, with the world still in on-again, off-again lockdown, our memories of seasons past grow sweeter. The California-based artist Paige Jiyoung Moon makes a practice of recording her memories in paint. Her canvases are ambitious not in scale (no work included here is larger than two feet across), but in their level of minute, prismatic detail. She playfully skews perspective, hovering just above each scene like a ghost revisiting an experience that she won’t allow time to swallow up. Quotidian moments are captured with a jeweler’s eye: her home being spruced up with the help of friends in Painting Day; a cluttered hotel room shared with her parents in Oakhurst Lodge; and in Warm House, an evening with friends in a crowded Seoul bar.
How fine Moon’s brushes must be! Her interiors
chronicle our dependence on gadgets and consumer comforts in a most intimate way. If you have the good fortune to examine these works in person—or with a magnifying glass in these pages—a game of I Spy will reveal familiar corporate logos (the lettering meticulously rendered) on empty Papa John’s pizza boxes, stuffed Trader Joe’s grocery bags, and used Starbucks cups. In contrast, her outdoor scenes are mainly free of single-use plastics and the excesses of modern life, but you’ll find clusters of spiny desert shrubs and the like filling in the corners of these canvases with equal maximalist zeal. Her landscapes leave no natural detail unexamined—every stone, sand grain, and pine needle is accounted for.
All of Moon’s diarist paintings, indoors and out, show small figures engaged in their own acts of recording, phones always at the ready. A sharp eye will glimpse slices of her larger vistas viewed on their tiny screens. Life-changing events as well as the mundane receive equal treatment by both the smartphone selfie and Moon’s able brushes; the artist seems intent on documenting the memories of others within her own, perhaps to hold us all near when we need and desire it most.
Pre-pandemic, Moon’s canvases were easy to admire as engaging twenty-first-century miniatures. Her skill and winsome storytelling recall the encyclopedic paintings of celebrated outsider artists in the vein of Grandma Moses. But over the past year, it’s grown difficult not to envy Moon’s figures, too, as they go about their lives standing so much closer together than six feet apart. Her small panels have become time capsules from the not-so-distant past, when we were free to roam and sightsee, to make last-minute plans with people outside our pods, and to share handrails with strangers whose smiles were still unmasked to us.