Yo Ahn Han: In Search of Floral Bodies
with micro-interview by Elaine Sexton
ELAINE SEXTON: There is such delicacy and raw energy in these paintings of what looks like flora and fauna adrift in a subterranean climate, which must be challenging to maintain working on such a large scale. Could you talk about your process in creating such wildly dreamy work that is familiar and at the same time strange?
YO AHN HAN: In my latest body of work I explore this uncanny state of being I am haunted by, deathlike seizures in which my body may convulse, shaking me into an unnatural paralytic state which is a bit like epilepsy. My collaged works depict the human body and floral motifs and the contrasts that occur in what I experience as a union between life and death. One of the motifs I draw from is the chrysanthemum, a flower representing the promise of life, when it blooms, and the sorrow of everlasting sleep at funerals in my native Korea, a symbol I find very dynamic. Similarly, Titan Arum, the largest flower on earth from Sumatra (Indonesia) contains idiosyncratic signs I find compelling. It appears to have a sexual (phallic) form, but also smells like a cadaver. This flower made a deep impression on me as a child when I discovered it in “Plants and Flowers,” Korea’s Time-Life’s Color Encyclopedia (1988). The way the name was translated “Sumatra Cheon-nam-sung” made the flower sound as if it was first male in Korea! Although, in fact, I believe they were simply saying it was part of the botanical family of Araceae, such as snake lily.
Cut images of chrysanthemums, titan arums, and other objects with multiple meanings are hidden in the process of my work. The reconfigured bodies made out of floral shapes reflect the pain and pleasure and tranquility I experience in my own body. Growing up with a rare body condition, brain vascular malformation, and witnessing my partner’s recent hospitalization, due to a life-threatening condition, caused me to pay more acute attention to the vulnerability of the human condition. By pouring water and allowing it to stain paper to generate form from nature and manipulating this manually (cutting out forms from the water-stained materials), I highlight my attempt to control chaos and the seemingly uncontrollable quality of the body that I live in.
The in-between space (negative space) plays an important role in my composition as well. Lee Joon, Assistant director of Leeum Museum of Art (Seoul), best expressed what I’m trying to do:“In East Asian painting, which traditionally placed more emphasis on inherent spirit in objects than representing them, the void was often used to express not only profound spaces of nature, such as clouds, atmosphere and the ocean, but also worlds that are abridged, suggested and invisible.” (extract from Void: Mapping the Invisible in Korean Art, 2007).
In many ways, that expression of the invisible is like my own yearning to locate myself in the most familiar, personal, and painful memory of the body. This work is result of a practice that leaves negative spaces that guide you from what you see to what you want to see.
Yo Ahn Han is a Korean painter based in Boston whose work is a visual dialogue between suppression and desire, a duality which speaks to both his experience of cerebral arteriovenous malformation and to his bifurcated cultural identity. He received his MFA 2D at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and obtained a Bachelors of Fine Art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). YoAhn’s work has been shown internationally, in the United States, South Korea, and the Netherlands. Recent solo shows include “Botanical Rhapsody” at Chase Young Gallery in Boston, “Metamorphic Desire” at Essex Art center (Jan, 2018), “My Princess, Bari” at ARTMORA Gallery in New York, “Alluring Confinement” at the Artlery 160 in Boston, and 매혹적 가두어짐 (Enchanting Box) in Seoul, Korea. His work has also been exhibited in several group shows including “Summer Palette” at Chase Young Gallery in Boston, Seventh Juried Exhibition at Prince Street Gallery in New York, ART BLOSSM Exhibition at ARTMORA NJ, and Sanqtuary at Distillery Gallery in Boston. Han has also participated in the annual MassArt Auctions and the 2016 Busan international Art fair. Seeking Serenade,” a solo show of this artist’s work, opens March 18 and runs through April 30, 2021 at Chase Young Gallery/Boston: http://www.chaseyounggallery.com/