Artist YoAhn Han

March 9, 2021

YoAhn Han uses watercolor, synthetic paper, and an X-ACTO knife to create dreamy scenes with an underlying tension.

Text by Paula M. Bodah

YoAhn Han is obsessed with a plant that smells like death. Amorphophallus titanum, aka titan arum, gets its name from the ancient Greek and means, roughly, amorphous phallus giant. “It’s the largest plant in the world,” Han says of the flower, which is native to Sumatra and Java. As beautiful as it is, its bloom smells like rotten meat, hence its other name, Corpse Flower. Fungi also delight the thirty-three-year-old artist, particularly cordyceps, a parasitic fungus. “It grows inside insects, killing the bug that is providing its nutrition,” he explains.

Han’s Titan Arum is a lush, sensual representation of the flower rendered in brilliant shades of azure, plum, and peach-flesh. Likewise, Ethereal Cordyceps is, at first glance, a floral abstraction
of whites and yellows on a background of sky-blue and smoky white. Both pieces have a hint of something like a horizon line—a recurring element in the artist’s work—below which the tranquil tone morphs into something more chaotic and menacing.

Han’s work is reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints, but his materials are water-based paints and Yupo, a synthetic paper with a plastic-y feel. He spills water on the paper first, then adds the paint and “plays” until he likes what he sees. Once the paper dries, Han flips it over, draws his intricate shapes, and cuts them out with an X-ACTO knife. He uses the cutouts in collage fashion, gluing them to paper mounted on wood panel.

That a rancid-smelling flower and a killer fungus should be the inspiration behind much of Han’s evocative, colorful art reflects just one of the many gentle tensions in both his work and his life as a South Korean living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Han describes his work as “fictional landscapes” that overlay memories of the farmland, lakes, and mountains that surround his home city of Chuncheon with his current urban surroundings. “It’s sort of like I have a splayed identity,” he says. “I try to put this kind of yearning feeling that I have into a two-dimensional form.”

Says Kate Kostopoulos, the director of Boston’s Chase Young Gallery, “His work reflects this duality in his cultural identity. There is a sense of a quest for self-discovery, for what it means to be in this two-worlds dynamic.”In Han’s art, colliding worlds create beautiful things.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: YoAhn Han is represented by Chase Young Gallery, Boston, chaseyounggallery.com. To see more of his work, visit yoahnhan.com.