Yunsung Jang's Universal Spirit

Portraits by Yunsung Jang (MFA 2013, Fellow 2014) reflect both vulnerability and strength simultaneously.  His  process is a painterly excavation that is extremely physical and personally revealing.  Jang’s application of paint is similar to the way one would plaster a wall.  Trowels, knifes and brushes slather paint onto the faces of his subjects.  Once dry, he is as likely to carve back into a cheek as gently glaze over an eye or a wisp of hair.  Ultimately the paint has a mesmerizing ability to transmit the dynamic terrain of the human landscape.

For the second installment of our Fellows Interview Series, we had the opportunity to sit down with Yun Jang, whose 'Mother #1' portrait is currently on view at the National Portrait Gallery in London and was recently given the 2014 Visitor's Choice Award.  The people have spoken and since we love to give the people what they want, here's more on this artist-on-the-rise and the inspiration behind his work. 

'Mother # 1', 2013, oil on canvas
Q: What an honor and accomplishment Yun! Can you tell me what winning the National Portrait Gallery's Visitor Choice award means to you? 
A: There are so many great paintings in the show.   Just the idea that over 2,000 people saw and voted for my work is the best gift ever. It means so much to me. I feel so supported and very blessed.  

Q: What were you trying to convey in your painting? 
A: My painting is bigger than my relationship with my mom. 'Mother #1' is about the universal relationship and love between mother and child. I wanted my feelings to transfer to the viewers to be able to connect them with their own childhood memories and love for their parents (if that's even possible).

Q: What are the major themes you pursue in your work?
A: I am interested in how a picture can replicate a living being, interpreting the subject’s internal and external qualities in communion with my own.

Q: What and who inspires you? 
A: Humanism, nature and anyone who dedicated to humanity.

Detail, 'Aki,' 2014, oil on canvas

Q: Can you tell us about where you grew up and its impact on your work?
A: I grew up in a suburb area in Seoul, Korea. It is a very densely populated area and I see lots of faces and emotions that I'm interested in.

Q: Do you start a painting with a picture, an idea, or story in mind? How do you know when it's finished?
A: I do think of an idea or picture in my mind but I don’t want to think about it too clearly so I can make a room to something else to develop.  I think the most difficult stage is conclusion. Ernest Hemingway wrote 47 endings to A Farewell to Arms. I don't always know when I'm finished.

Q: Tell me about your rituals?
A: I always try to eat an apple before I start to work so I wont get hungry and have to stop in the middle of something. I set up working and put headphones on with some classical music or Disney music and start to work. I always clean up and put everything back in its place.
Q: What three things can we find in your studio?
A: Pencils, sketchbooks and candies.

Q: How has the Academy shaped your practice? 
A: I spend more time thinking about the concept.

Q: If you could retake any class at the Academy what would it be and why?
A: I should have taken a monotype class. It looks fun to me!

Q: During your post-graduate year, what did you learn most about yourself and practice?
A: I learned how to prepare for the real world. I got to stretch my body before jumping into the ocean.

Self-Portrait, 2014, oil on wooden box
Q: Would you pick a piece from the Fellows Show and tell me about it?
A: Jun, He is my friend, teacher and my mentor. His life was very interesting. He is so dedicated to art and spirit. He has struggled with emotional and physiological issues but religion and art is his escape. I want to depict that human struggle.

'Jun,' 2014, oil on canvas
Q: Can you finish this sentence: The reason why I'm an artist is...?
A: The reason why I’m an artist is I like to create new things.

Q: If you weren't an artist what would you be?
A: I’d like to be a musician.

Q: Finally, what's next?
A: Getting a studio and starting to work!

Currently, Yunsung Jung's work is featured in the "2014 Fellows" exhibition on view at the Academy's Wilkinson Gallery through September 28th.  This three-person show also features the work of 2014 Fellows Elizabeth Glaessner and Nicolas V. Sanchez.

Annually, the Academy awards Post-graduate fellowships to three exemplary graduating students chosen through a highly competitive selection process. During their Fellowship year, the Fellows receive studio accommodations, a stipend, exhibition opportunities and teaching assistantships to expand the depth and breadth of their artistic practice. The "2014 Fellows" show represents the culmination of their Fellowship year and entree into the art world as professional artists. 

To see more work from Yunsung Jang please visit his website.  Stay tuned the last installment of the Fellows interview series featuring Elizabeth Glaessner

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