James Jean

The timeless dreamworld of Taiwanese-American artist James Jean pulls together visual codes of past and present, East and West.

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.

 

Highlights
  • 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, and recurrent mythical beasts offer twists on famous cultural narratives. The palette switches between bright, intense digital colours in works like Peacock 2018, and more subdued, renaissance-esque hues in works like Lory (2019) and Stampede (2019). Both joyous and intimidating, Jean’s paintings have the youthful escapism of comics at their heart.

James Jean, Stampede, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
James Jean, Lory, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
James Jean, Peacock, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
“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-esque paintings. Basing some of his works on historical artefacts, Jean distills lofty art histories into captivating images with a pop sensibility. Inferno (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 wrap around them, as if suffocated by their own umbilical cords.

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James Jean, Inferno, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

Jean modernises influences from Old Masters of East and West. The complexity and technical prowess of his compositions evoke that of the renaissance painters, while Jean’s reinterpretations of Hokusai’s archetypal wave in works like Adrift II (2016) pay homage to the forefather of Japanese art. This is then juxtaposed with his anime aesthetic, alongside recognisable motifs like Bugs Bunny and Pinocchio which nod to America’s megabuck cultural-guardians, Disney and Looney Tunes. The magic of Jean’s work lies precisely within this coalescence: the archaic and the rare, set alongside the popular and mass-produced from across Asia, North America, and Europe. Thwarting notions of time and place, Jean’s work collapses into bright, enthralling fantasticism.

James Jean, Adrift II, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.
“I like to draw what I see with my physical eyes as well as my mind’s eyes.”
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James Jean, Adrift III, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
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