Excavating diverse art histories, James Jean transforms visual codes of past and present, East and West, into a disorientating, timeless dreamworld.
For such a young artist, Jean’s oeuvre is impressive. His work has infiltrated both fine art and popular culture, with high-profile collaborations from Prada to Apple, a colossal digital following, and representation by contemporary art icon, Takashi Murakami. Beginning his career as a cover artist for DC Comics, Jean incorporated his former trade into his own distinctive style: a fusion of traditional painting techniques, and animated aesthetics reminiscent of Manga, Anime and American comic-books.
- Time-based limited edition print, Chelone, 2019
- Solo show, Eternal Journey at the Lotte Art Museum, Seoul, 2019
- Collaboration with Apple for iPad Pro Campaign, 2018
- Poster commissioned by Guillermo del Toro for Oscar-nominated The Shape of Water, 2017
- Kendrick Lamar wore a Prada Jean-designed T-shirt to the VMAs, 2017
The works depict imaginative hallucinations and deja-vus with an otherworldliness evocative of a pleasant psychedelic trip or a subverted fairytale. Recurrent mythical beasts offer idiosyncratic twists on famous cultural narratives, and his pallette switches between bright, intense colours, and more subdued hues that hold a shy nightmarish beauty. Both joyous and intimidating, Jean’s paintings have a youthful escapism that test the endless potential of fantasy.
Eternal Journey, Jean’s solo show in 2019 at the Lotte Art Museum in Seoul, was a prolific retrospective of old and new works. The exhibition included preliminary sketches, as well as immersive digital installations, stain-glass sculptures, and vast mural-esq paintings. Basing some of his works on historical artefacts, Jean distills lofty art histories into captivating images with a pop sensibility. Inferno – Red Fire South (2019) is a subversive remake of Hell Scroll, or Jigoku-zoshi, a 12th century Japanese scroll painting. Spread across three canvases, the large painting depicts a clan of cartoon child-like creatures entrapped in blue flames. With large baby heads, wispy blue hair and oversized trainers, the creatures’ innocence is violated by the sprawling flames, and thin, tentacle-like branches that are wrapped around them, as if suffocated by their own umbilical cords.
Jean reinvents outdated notions of the all-knowing artistic genius. By exposing his process online and in his exhibitions, he makes his work intentionally accessible without compromising its quality or complexity. Jean draws from a wealth of influences which merge his ancient predecours with a contemporary visual paradigm: his technical ability and the breadth of his practice evokes that of the renaissance; reinterpretations of Hokusai’s archetypal waves align Jean with the masters of Japanese art; while depictions of Bugs Bunny and Pinocchio nod to America’s megabuck cultural-guardians, Disney and Looney Tunes. Coalescing the archaic, the rare, the contemporary, and the mass-produced from across Asia, North America, and Europe, Jean’s aesthetic thwarts notions of time and place, collapsing into a bright, enthralling fantasticism.
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