“It is the job of the artist to pay close attention to things, to give them the attention they deserve. This series of paintings shows a distinction about the power of existence when complete strangers become objects of interest to me."
Working with a restricted palette - the primaries plus black and white - making the most of the tension between the descriptive and the abstract, Han’s small canvases, his 1:1 scale, convey the dynamic vulnerability and vitality of his subjects to compelling effect. The faces he presents, his cast of characters, are figures glimpsed in passing. His adept use of his material, painting sticks, makes for an assured balance of concept and craft. Sheets of grey, shifting planes of colour - the same colour working its way through an image as contour, mass, shade or light and the greys always richly coloured. His grasp of portraiture’s complex surfaces and volumes, his confident engagement with both his material and subject matter sees him deliver portraits for the fast paced, splintered reality of contemporary life.
Han’s work makes us viscerally alert to the double nature of the glimpse; he visible and the temporal as a short duration co-presence. Their conjunction might be thought of as a cusp moment, an everyday moment that only rarely becomes pivotal, this is Han’s achievement. His paintings resist being characterised as studies; or sketches, so powerfully does he evoke the poignancy of lives lived, hinted at, either side of the brief moment when their glimpsed presence is set down by Jaeyeol Han. These are fully achieved art works and they stand as a direct challenge to ICAP’s abstracted, conceptualised, reduced to an issue, a theme, I refer to Identity, usually figured as an isolated statistic.
Han counts the influence of Goethe's Theory of Colour as primary - he was reading its Korean translation when we first met, not that that matters. He deploys rich saturated colours against which his use of black as a colour, as a component of outline, as a means of establishing detail - both directly and obliquely - and, of course, as shadow; his use of black provides an amateur lending his images solidity. It’s the solidity of the emphatic, it is never static. With few exceptions his subjects - on each of his canvases a single head is captured - his subjects are taken from the street, from coffee shops; passers-by all; all of them realized in a dynamic interplay of depiction and abstraction.
At Art's remove his knowledge of the physiognomical variability of faces and of the head's anatomy, sees him produce strikingly distinctive avatars of his subjects. These originate in a sketchbook he adds to assiduously, daily. From such outings he selects those pieces which have, for him, a particular resonance. And in the dead of night and in single intense sessions he creates his paintings - did I remark before his concentration and its reach? I am reminded too of his equally fierce independence of mind.
Han’s faces are so empathically established on his canvases they can be described as sculptural. Occasional lightly applied lines, mere markers – remnants of the blocking in stage – remain visible; unaltered they cradle his heads. This heightens and breathes life into the sculptural effect; they have created a space for themselves against what would otherwise register simply as primed canvas. But it would be wrong to say the surrounding primed canvas entirely isolates. As a moderating force counterpoised to the paint out of which his heads are created it functions to provide space within which they have the option of movement. It registers through the paint film too; on occasion as the absence of paint, elsewhere seeping through the colour / stain of glazes. They carry a certain frission, an undercurrent of expressive potential; their intervals are charged. In formal terms these lend his images a degree of transparency. Beyond the limits of so narrow a view it’s a transparency experienced as permeability. Formal analysis has the option of deploying Gestalt psychology to explain how this or that hiatus, rift or pause in the paint surface evades surface consciousness, evades our everyday perceptions. Yet it has little to offer in response to how these discontinuities and pauses conspire to coalesce into the sensation of permeability, a permiability rejecting see-through transparency in favour of a sence of absorption. The force drawing Han's subjects together beckons to the viewer of his work.
Contemplating these lacunas, these transparencies and, at the time, drafting a note for the interview I plan conducting with the artist it occurred to me that to view his work is to place ourselves in the position of one or another of his passers-by. On our daily round we are all someone or other coming and going; we may recognise a small few of the passers-by accompanying us on our way but we all partake in a wider anonymity. This is the community we are drawn into by the players of Han’s faces series.