PORTLAND — A lot of artists I know are good cooks. Some of them have even cooked professionally.
Fresco artist Barbara Sullivan used to cook at Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, ceramic artist Paul Heroux was once the chef at No Tomatoes in Auburn, and painter Jaap Helder was the owner of The Vineyard in Portland.
Jung Hur, however, elevates the artist chef to new heights.
Art and food are what downtown Portland are all about, so “Balance: The Paintings & Cuisine of Jung Hur” seems made to order for the Portland scene.
Jung is the chef-owner of Spread, a stylish New American bistro at 100 Commercial St., where Balance can be seen and tasted. The Cape Elizabeth resident is also the owner of Fuji on Exchange Street, and once owned Kirara, a sushi restaurant in New York City.
Before Jung went into the restaurant business, he was trained as a painter in his native South Korea. He has shown in Korea and in New York, but Balance is his first show in Maine since moving here in 2008.
Artists exhibiting in restaurants, cafes and bars are fairly common in Maine, but the Jung Hur show at Spread is an exceptional marriage of fine art and fine dining in a setting that is itself largely created by Jung, including the bar, the pillows and the chandelier.
Jung’s ideographic acrylic-on-canvas abstractions, all untitled, are sensual yet orderly, energetic in the handling of paint yet restrained in composition. Some are arranged in overall grids, while others more organic. I see in them everything from the painterly calligraphy of Brice Marden to the cheerful chromatics of Wayne Thiebaud baked goods. They are thoughtful, even contemplative, without being wildly expressive.
Jung’s cuisine, which he served at a Dec. 3 press preview, used meat, fish and vegetables like paint to create “food pictures,” going so far as to serve edible gold leaf, and to cut pasta and vegetables into his recurring keyhole shape.
The keyhole, a circle with a short rectangular neck, is an iconic image with Jung. He presents it in both positive and negative iterations.
“My concept is yin and yang – I can go everywhere with this: the kitchen, the studio, anywhere,” the artist is quoted as explaining in the Balance catalog. “Painting has always been my direct expression of my ideas and I do it by myself, but my food is broader because it involves more people. The keyhole is like a lens that implies two sides and balance relates things so they have meaning with each other.”
Writer Daniel Kany helped organize the show and has written an insightful and informative essay on the consonance of Jung’s art and food in the exhibition catalog. Addressing the key that Jung’s enigmatic keyhole implies, Kany concludes, “For an artist like Jung Hur, it’s not enough to possess a key: The key is the thing that drives you to find its lock, fit them together, turn them as a single combined duality and then open the door. But whether you choose to step through is ultimately up to you.”
Between Dec. 12 and Feb. 2, 2014, Spread will offer a four-course prix fixe dinner as the culinary manifestation of “Balance: The Paintings & Cuisine of Jung Hur”; call 828-8233.