Hanna Jaeun tells EK about her artistic process and her surreal paintings that often incorporate religious iconography. Her works are playful alluring yet melancholically unnerving in their presentation of cathartic subject matter. Through her subjects, Jaeun extends a certain set of circumstances at hand.
Why such a succinct “about me” section on all of your websites?
I tend to be a private person when it comes to putting myself out there as a person. Social media has also been a tough thing to get used to.
As an invasive follow-up… how would a close friend describe you?
According to a friend, I am small and mighty, hard working and extremely passionate. I do not half-ass anything. These are not my words—this is according to a close friend of mine. Haha.
Why did you choose to teach yourself to paint as opposed to other artistic practices?
I quit my job in the apparel industry and dabbled in a few things such as stop motion animation, children’s book illustration, and doll making. I had always wanted to be a painter since I was a child, but I never formally pursued it. I also felt I needed to focus one thing first and hone my skills before branching out.
I understand that you graduated from RISD with a degree in apparel design—how does your training in that field come out in your art? Do you ever think about returning to apparel design?
I don’t think it really comes out in my art. However, when I took a class in stop motion animation, I learned how to make puppets. So, I was making dolls at one point, combining the puppet-making skills and the sewing skills I learned from college. I plan to get back into this, but I am focusing on painting at the moment. I don’t think I will ever return to apparel design. I realized it was not something that I was really interested in.
One trend that connects almost all of your artwork is this dark whimsicality. Where does your acute taste for that come from?
I was drawn to “dark” things as a child. Perhaps I developed this taste from childhood memories and experiences, or perhaps it was innate. I find that a touch of whimsy lightens the mood and makes dark subjects a little more approachable.
In many of your works, you incorporate references to religion, hierarchy, and authority. What compels you to revisit this material? Is there something about Christian idolatry that interests you in particular?
I just love Catholic and Christian art, icons, and architecture. I just think that it is quite beautiful and that you discover more and more meaning each time.
Based on other interviews of you that I’ve read, you seem to be very focused and someone who dedicates much of their time to painting. When//where//how do you give yourself time to formulate ideas? How do you make sure that they don’t slip from your memory?
Ideas come to me at random times. I think when I am on the train or walking, whenever I am alone. I always try to be in tune with my surroundings for inspiration. I find that I can focus the most right before I fall asleep. I will make a mental note or jot down my ideas in my notebook if something comes to me.
How does surrealism relate to the subconscious for you? How do you, through a dream-like state, arrive at such a vivid and detailed vision?
For me, the subconscious is the world in my head; a world I create for myself. Surrealism is the expression of this through art. Being in a dream-like state is sometimes more of a feeling that you can’t quite put your finger on. It takes some creative thinking and sometimes a little research to put this vision on a canvas.
For you, what is the advantage of working on many pieces simultaneously? And the disadvantage?
When I am working on a series of work, I like working on many pieces simultaneously. I rotate between them because I like to see them evolve together. However, the disadvantage of working like this is that I don’t have one finished piece, just a bunch of half finished pieces.
What is your non-animal spirit animal? Why?
I am not sure I have ever thought about this. So, I must say I never had one. If I had to choose one now, it would be a candle because it gives you light when it is dark.
What’s up and coming for you?
I have an artist spotlight show at Arch Enemy Arts in Philly on March 4th and I have a few group shows lined up at Gallery 1988, Gristle Gallery, Alexi Era Gallery, and Baker + Hesseldenz Gallery. Very excited for all these opportunities and more details to come!