James Jean

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.

 

Select Achievements
  • 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
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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.

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“I think the best paintings of mine are born from the deepest recesses of the mind, from dark and surprising places”

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.

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“I believe that you can find yourself by constantly making”

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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