The flowing dynamism in Hannah Shin’s work is really something else! There is a very confident quality. An undefinable logic. Even when the mark making is seemingly dissonant and packed with contrasting colours, it’s still pleasantly harmonious. ‘Each gesture is free yet deliberate,’ she explains, ‘the marks perhaps mimic a certain form but are quickly dispersed towards abstraction, leaving the traces of reminiscence.’ So when you start to recognise something in her painting and follow it, it quickly becomes abstract. This very articulate Seoul-based artist trained at SLADE and the RCA, which were both, in different ways, very important in her artistic formation. In this conversation with edition, we talk about her practice, the significance of her colour choices and what she thinks is missing in the contemporary art world.
You grew in Jakarta and Seoul, can you tell us more about what you find best in two respective cities?
I grew up as a typical ‘third-culture kid’. I moved to Jakarta when I was 6 and spent all of my childhood in this tropical country before I headed to London for university. So having a ‘foreign’ identity was a very normal thing to me, and I think it was relatively easy for me to adapt to the diversity of London. Mentioning about Seoul and Jakarta, honestly I would say that my experiences in Seoul only started to pile up after coming back to Korea after graduating from RCA. It is funny that the more I adjust to the city of Seoul, I begin to miss the quality of Indonesia. To me the cities have very contrasting energies. Seoul is fast-growing, always busy and full of tensions whereas Jakarta is a lot laid back, things are slow and family-centered. What I like about Seoul is the plenty of supplements and relationships that entertain me, inspire me. (London has a completely different vibe of inspiration and energy)
On the other hand, what I like about Jakarta is the complete oppositeness to it. I feel that a lot of unnecessary needs are not available in Jakarta, which makes me concentrate on myself a lot- reflect on my art, my family and life. Oh, and I cannot not mention how I love the vibrancy of colors of the tropical nature- which inspires me all the time!
Can you tell us more how your work has evolved after Slade and RCA?
Whilst Slade unlocked my artistic freedom towards creating abstract, power-driven work taking cue from the abstract expressionists, RCA gave me time to decompose and reassemble what I had dug out. At Slade my works were generally more raw and fresh in terms of techniques that are made up by building up and erasing layers of paint, but they were heavily based on technical approaches. During RCA I focused on what my initial interest is about, reviewing my photographic notes and carrying out various experiments that could be built up, slowly departing from process-based practices. As an abstract painter, my process cannot be taken apart from intuitive marks of abstract expressionists. But my mark-makings are not based solely on feelings or arbitrary gestures; instead, it is the exact opposite. If you look closely at my work, you will be able to see traces of anticipation and calculation in just a single stroke. While I make the marks ‘immediately’, the moment leading to that requires worry and courage, until I am sure of the ‘cue’ to execute it.
Can you please describe your artwork as if you were talking to someone who can’t see?
Like a surge of waves, the swirl of paint brush spreads across the canvas plane. The use of thick oil-bar forms raw gestural moments, which then collides with carefully wiped out lines. So my artwork invites you to merge into a visual language of illusive and sensory spaces of various festive gestures and actions that correspond to each other. I will bring out a few keywords for better visualization: spaces, lights, brush marks and gestures, power and energy. And these elements are lyrically orchestrated on canvas as layered surfaces. I choose the word lyrical- because there is a power of beauty and harmony projected in it. Each gesture is free yet deliberate; the marks perhaps mimic a certain form but are quickly dispersed towards abstraction, leaving the traces of reminiscence. Different compositions exist between chance and control, between what is old and what is new, and what is conscious and not.
Why do you choose to employ bright colors on your work? What does it signify to you?
Just like the way writers write down their inspirational daily notes- I capture my inspirational moments as photographic notes. To me colors are visual notes of my experiences, my interactions to my surroundings. My color palettes started with vibrant, powerful and acidic- then the colors eventually evolved into more harmonious, joyful uplifting palettes. I think it interrelates with my attitude towards life, the value of seeing everyday life. I choose to celebrate them, by using bright colors.
Can you tell us more about your experience as an art teacher in Jakarta?
I have a long history of teaching students. Back in Jakarta I taught students regularly who are aiming for universities abroad. As an actively working artist, it is meaningful to guide those who are seeking for the routes to becoming independent artists or similar paths. Also I think I do a good job as a teacher too.
Tell me your favorite word in any language, and explain why
There is a word called “Komorebi” (木漏れ日) in Japanese. I don’t necessarily favor specific words, but I pick this word because I think it enlightens what I treasure about the essence of my artistic practice. Funnily enough, komorebi is an untranslatable word, which eloquently captures the effect of sunlight streaming through the leaves of the trees. The shadow created on the ground, or even in our curtains, describes this everyday beauty. I even titled a series of artworks as “komorebi- Entangling play”, as the interplay of the aesthetics between the light, shadows and the leaves is what brings nature alive.
What do you miss the most about London?
I miss my ordinary life as a Londoner. I miss strolling around the corners of the street. But above all, I miss the art shops that I used to visit with my student card- especially Cornelissen&Son, Russell & Chapple. I still remember bringing my friend to help me carry 2m-long canvas frames back to the studio. The shops would always attract me with new materials that I never explored, I would stay in the shops for hours trying to decide which to buy (because they were just so expensive!). Looking back I realize that it was very fortunate that I had chances to explore various materials whilst staying in London. Once you are out of there, you realize you lack necessary materials everywhere you go.
What do you think is missing in contemporary culture?
Right now is the culture of the industrial revolution 4.0. It marks significant influences on every aspect of life- even COVID has accelerated this vast transition to the digital world. We love words like big data, A.I, smart, algorithms. Currently in the art scenes I see lots of residencies and bursaries which encourage artists to collaborate and experiment with digital data, A.I technology. As a painter who uses paint in contemporary guise but still remains traditional, I wish that there would be more appreciation of natural and traditional things which could possibly lack in the future scenes.
Do you have anything exciting planned this year?
My plans have never been so unsure before as COVID has been taking over my schedules constantly throughout 2020. It has been very difficult to travel over countries, but ‘hopefully’ I will be able to in 2021 to proceed with a few upcoming projects. I am very excited to create a site specific 3.6m long painting, which will be my second large-scale painting project. The largest work I have created before was at the ‘big painting project’ in Slade- which was 4m- and I am indeed happy to say that the project still remains as my memorable break-though points of my art practice.