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This Korean Artist Redefines Beauty and Rebirth in Mixed Media

In Yo Ahn Han’s mixed media artworks, lacy cuttings fashioned as flowers symbolize the fragility of life as his vibrant colors celebrate it.

Another Side of the Moon, mixed media on panel, $4,600. / Courtesy photo

As an essential part of the life cycle, flowers often symbolize rebirth and beauty. Depicted with decaying petals, however, a flower can foreshadow death. Context is everything. Yo Ahn Han, a Korean-born, mixed media artist who earned a bachelor’s degree from the Art Institute of Chicago and a master’s degree from Massachusetts College of Art and Design, explores the duality of flowers in his most recent work.

Motivated by a lifelong chronic disease that causes tremors and temporary paralysis, the artist embraces flowers as subject matter that reflects his own relationship with death. Each flower introduces East Asian culture into his practice, too: The chrysanthemum is a common funeral flower in Korea; the peony originates from an East Asian myth in which a prince and princess transcend mortality as tree peonies; the titan arum, or corpse flower, which grows in Sumatra, has the stench of rotting flesh at peak bloom.

Han’s florals, executed in elaborate Yupo paper cuttings that he collages onto painted panels, veer more abstract than obvious. (Yupo is a waterproof, synthetic paper.) “I’m interested in the hide and seek; viewers have to work to find what they see,” says Han, whose Allston studio is overflowing with lacy cutouts.

Han finds inspiration for his vibrant colors in the flamboyant hues of the royal court paintings of Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392) and the pastel hues of Europe’s Rococo artwork. During these eras, Han explains, color was not classified by gender—before the romantic and splendid became the sole domain of the female. The Japanese animations of his childhood played a role, too. “I was not permitted these,” he says. “I think the colors I use are passive compensation.”
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First published in the print edition of Boston Home’s Spring 2024 issue, with the headline “Floral Persuasion.”