Ahn’s life has always straddled the Eastern and Western worlds, and his works express that duality. However, they share one important quality: a confident mastery of the medium that may seem especially rare in an artist still in the early stages of his professional career-rare, that is, until you realize that in his early years, Ahn was a classic example of a child prodigy.
In 1979, 2-year-old Jungsuk was visiting his grandmother in the countryside outside of Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city. One day, the youngster saw some cows in a nearby field. “I came back to my grandmother’s house and drew [the scene] exactly as I saw it,” he recalls.
The boy’s talent was vividly apparent. “My grandmother knew how to do traditional Korean ink paintings, and she tried to teach me,” says Ahn.
Back in Korea, when Jon was 4 years old, his parents enrolled him in a private art academy aimed at high-school-level students. “At first, the other students just thought I was cute,” says Ahn, hesitating and then adding, “until I started doing paintings better than theirs. But to me the classes were just fun, a plaything.”
Art playtime quickly turned more serious when Ahn was 7 [...] with his parents’ support, Jon began studying painting privately under the mentorship of Nancy Angell-Rickenbacker, a former student of Pablo Picasso and Oskar Kokoschka. “She was very gentle and nurturing but had very high expectations and expected exceptional work every time,” Ahn says.
After high school, in 1996, Ahn moved across the Atlantic to study art history and computer science at the American University of Paris. Soon after his arrival, his devotion to painting took a serious blow with news that Angell-Rickenbacker had died suddenly at the age of 58. “I was so sad,” he says, “and I didn’t do anything art-related for about two years.”
Eventually, his love of art re-emerged. He began to brush up on his skills by visiting Paris’ great museums in his spare time, making personal copies of masterworks by the likes of Théodore Géricault and Claude Monet. And, he says, “Nancy’s lessons continued to stick to me, just like the smell of the dark-roast coffee she always drank.”
He visited the [Academy of Art University San Francisco’s] spring 2006 student show and was impressed by the quality of the paintings and drawings he saw; soon after, [signed up]for their master of fine arts program instead. […] “It felt good doing it again,” he says, and suddenly Ahn found himself to be “pretty much a full-time artist.” Perhaps because of his decade-long mentorship, however, he didn’t follow the traditional path in his studies under such respected Academy faculty members as Craig Nelson, Warren Chang, Baoping Chen, Zhaoming Wu, and Tomutsu Takishima. “I was pretty stubborn and confident in my abilities, and they were always patient with me. Eventually, we would find a middle ground.” Since receiving his MFA degree in May 2010, Ahn has been a member of the Academy’s teaching faculty himself. And the paintings he’s been creating since graduating express a mastery he has now been honing for almost 30 years, from those first classes back in Korea at the age of 4, through his mentorship under Angell-Rickenbacker, to his Academy degree.
“There is a narrative quality to the painting,” Ahn explains. “But through image, mood, and design, I’m trying to convey personal feeling [...] I’m trying to convey basic human emotions,” Ahn concludes, “without being overt.”
By Norman Koplas, Southwest Art magazine, March 2012
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