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By Design: Jay Sae Jung Oh

Born in South Korea and based in Seattle, the artist has made a name for herself by transforming discarded objects into pieces of art.

Artist Jay Sae Jung Oh sits in her Salvage chair.
Jay Sae Jung Oh in her Seattle studio. (c) Jay Sae Jung Oh, courtesy of the artist and Salon 94 Design, by Ian Allen.

“My work isn’t planned in advance,” says Jay Sae Jung Oh, a 41-year-old from South Korea, who came to the United States 13 years ago to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. “The beauty is in the way it just happens; it depends so much on the underlying objects themselves.” Oh is talking about her Salvage series, in which she magically combines a hectic assemblage of scavenged things—from guitars to bottles, bicycle wheels, and broken plastic chairs—into one harmonious piece, by wrapping them together with a cover of jute or sleek leather strips. Once the process is complete, these magpie mounds become tables, chairs or planters—dynamic and sculptural pieces which can be

used, albeit with care.

Oh has lived in Seattle for around five years, which also wasn’t planned. “I married a guy who works in tech,” she says. She met her husband, who is now at Microsoft, 14 years ago, when he came to the Korean capital Seoul as an industrial design undergrad on an internship. Oh herself was just about to head to Cranbrook.

A piece from the Salvage series on display in Chatsworth House
A piece from the Salvage series on display in Chatsworth House. (c) Chatsworth House Trust, courtesy of the artist and Chatsworth House Trust, by India Hobson

Oh presented her first Savage Chair, made with the fragrant but fragile jute, at her college graduation in 2011, after which she moved to New York and continued to develop the Salvage series. “That was tough in New York,” she says. “When I was in the middle of making a piece in my kitchen in Williamsburg, I wouldn’t be able to get into the bathroom.” She was also working by day in the studio of Gaetano Pesce. “He really influenced me,” she says of the Italian godfather of colored poured resin. “He told me: ‘if you think something is worth showing to people, then it is.’”

Now in Seattle, Oh says she can focus more clearly, and is in the process of setting up a new studio in a 100-year-old house in the fancy Madrona district. She has also discovered the local Goodwill outlet, which is a treasure trove of unwanted objects upon which she can bestow a beautiful second life.

“Life in New York was intense. Here you are close to nature and move at a better, calmer pace,” she says. “On the other hand, I was very involved in the design scene in New York, and that gave me a lot of energy and contact with the best galleries and other designers. I miss that.” (She has shown with Jeanne Greenberg’s Salon 94 since 2017.) “I don’t know anyone in Seattle who works as an independent artist,” she continues. “I think they all left and went to Portland. The tech guys are in Seattle, so artists can’t afford it anymore. I’m on my own here.”


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