Sunday Profile: JinMan Jo

Statesman Journal
By Barbara Curtin

JinMan Jo found his calling when a college teacher introduced him to the possibilities of sculpture. Now Jo hopes to do the same at Western Oregon University, where he is an assistant professor.”An educator changed my life,” he said. “I want to change other people’s.”A hint of Jo’s determination can be gained from the fact that at 39, he has already had 21 solo shows in Korea and seven U.S. states.About 60 works, many from those shows, continue to reside in his South Salem garage. Sculpture tends to be big and expensive, meaning that it doesn’t sell as readily as some other media, he explained.Even so, Jo often returns to the WOU sculpture lab late at night to create more.”The students watch me,” he said. “That encourages me to work hard.”One of his major pieces, “Self-Consciousness II,” is on two-year loan to “Sculpture Now,” the new show on the south side of Salem Conference Center.

Jo often tells his students that their sculptures must connect with their personal stories. “Self-Consciousness II” reflects his own.

The son of restaurant owners, he grew up in a small town in South Korea. He passed rigorous exams that determined which lucky few would enter college. That took him to undergraduate studies at the University of Seoul.There Jo learned the monumental style that characterizes sculpture in his native land. His favorite teacher encouraged him to travel, telling him that the wider world had much more for him to learn.Jo followed that advice to Europe in 1997. He visited major sculpture shows in Venice and Germany.”After the show, I am crying, this is so beautiful,” he said.At 28, he got a U.S. visa. He spent six months working to improve his English in St. Louis. He then enrolled at the University of Iowa, earning two master’s degrees and considerable recognition for his work. Among other honors, he twice was featured in Sculpture magazine’s “Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture.”But all these changes across continents and cultures proved stressful. His sculptures often centered on themes of finding and losing identity. That’s the case with the work at the conference center.A horizontal metal slab, pocked with pipes, screws and other detritus, represents the industrial world, he said. It’s held aloft by bronze branches modeled on real trees.

“The tree represents the human beings in the modern world,” said Jo. “Some tree branches grew up through the top. That’s my hope.”

From Iowa he moved on to Utah State University, where he taught and coordinated the sculpture area. Longing to reconnect with the ocean and forests of his youth, he came to WOU in 2010.

A recent class in WOU’s basement sculpture studio was relaxed. Surrounded by heavy table saws, drill presses and piles of scrap metal, Jo appeared smaller than his 5 feet 6 inches. (“I think I’m a small guy with big ambitions through my sculpture,” he later joked.)

Aaron Westendorf tried different ways to stack blocks he’d fashioned from concrete with bits of rebar poking out. At Jo’s urging, he added rough blocks of wood to the structure, creating more “negative space” between the sharp-edged concrete pieces.”We’re just trying to express something personal inside us instead of making it about something else,” said Westendorf, a senior art major. Jo kidded Jake Hauswirth, a senior art major, who still was trying to commit his concept to a sketch pad.

“For three weeks, he’s only thinking, he’s changing ideas, then he’s got another idea coming today,” said Jo with a smile.

Martha Flores showed her work-in-progress, two rough branches joined to create an eye-shaped curve.

She noted that the branches were free — an asset for aspiring sculptors.

“I thought they were dynamic and abstract as well,” said the senior art and English major. “I love nature. Nature is a great sculptor.”Jules Vogel, a senior art major, praised their teacher’s approach. “I like that he has us go around and look at different projects. He has ideas, we have ideas … I like the collaboration.”Jo explained, “I respect each student. I don’t want to say it’s a good concept or bad concept. The concept comes from the student’s life.”—

Long term, Jo would like to raise money for a casting and forging station so WOU students can work in bronze. Even more
long term, he’d like to start an international sculpture school in Korea.

For now, he’s wants to be a great teacher and a man that his two sons can respect.

He has good models for both back in Korea, and he never forgets that. When he calls his father, he also calls the teacher
who changed his life.

(503) 399-6699 or twitter.com/BarbaraCurtin

Sculptor JinMan Jo from Korea teaches a class at Western Oregon University in Monmouth Monday, Oct. 17, 2011.

Bio

Age: 39
Residence: South Salem
Education: University of Seoul, bachelor of fine arts in environmental sculpture, 1999; University of Iowa, master of arts in sculpture (2002) and master of fine arts in sculpture (2003)
Jobs: Art instructor at two institutes in Korea, 1995-98; teaching assistant, University of Iowa, 2001-2003; assistant professor, University of Utah, 2003-10; adjunct assistant professor, Western Oregon University, 2010-present
Family: Wife, Sihyo Kim; sons Timothy Jo, 9, and Mathew Jo, 8
Favorite activities: Camping; travel, including study-abroad trips to Korea and China, and trips to Timothy’s Little League tournaments
Favorite local source for low-cost sculpture materials: Cherry City Metals
What a typical JinMan Jo sculpture costs: $5,000 for a small one, $59,000 for the piece at Salem Conference Center
His philosophy: “Life is hard. It takes effort to change the dark energies and transform them into something meaningful. In a similar way, when I am working with stone, steel and wood, I must use great force to change the rigid nature of the materials and forms I have chosen. As my materials take on their new forms, they become vehicles for the transmission of my ideas to the viewer.”

Online

For a photo gallery and video of JinMan Jo, see this story at StatesmanJournal.com

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