JAMES JEAN: MAZE AURUM

Once described as a multidisciplinary visual artist whose works explore imagination and reality through narrative-driven, layered compositions.

By Balthazar Malevolent

JAMES JEAN: MAZE AURUM

James Jean is a Taiwanese-American visual artist working primarily in painting and drawing. He lives and works in Los Angeles, where he moved from New York in 2003.

Jean was born in Taiwan and raised in New Jersey. During his early education, he explored various forms of artistic expression, including the piano and trumpet. He attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City, from which he graduated in 2001.

In 2001, Jean became a cover artist for DC Comics and Marvel Comics, garnering seven Eisner awards, three consecutive Harvey awards, two gold medals and a silver from the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, and a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators of New York. He also worked in advertising, and has contributed to many national and international publications. His clients included Time Magazine, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, ESPN, Atlantic Records, Target, Linkin Park, Playboy, Knopf, Prada among others. He illustrated covers for the comic book series Fables and The Umbrella Academy, for which he has won six Eisner Awards for "Best Cover Artist". In 2006, he won Best Artist from the World Fantasy Awards. He also did the album art for My Chemical Romance 's album The Black Parade, which was released in 2006.

In 2008, Jean retired from illustration projects in order to focus on painting. Combining abstract figuration with loose, gestural marks, Jean creates layered compositions that evoke personal or collective experiences. Dream-like and at times disorienting, his works are expressive of narratives unbounded in time or space, and draw upon art historical antecedents ranging from Baroque painting traditions to Japanese woodblock prints and Chinese silk scroll paintings.

Sketchbooks have sustained a vital space in Jean's practice, solidifying importance in his time during art school as a rejection of the strict academic focus of visual arts studies. In favor of the freedom found in sketching during his childhood, Jean embraced sketchbooks as a means of exploring figures and imaginative creatures, synthesizing doodles, line drawings, and journalistic elements with more polished compositions in black-and-white and color. For Jean, sketchbooks are spaces for both experiment or study and for finished artworks in their own right.

Jean created the poster art for three films in 2017: Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, and Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. Employing different media for each artwork, he hand-painted two character posters for mother! (one for Jennifer Lawrence and another for Javier Bardem), made a charcoal drawing for The Shape of Water, and used digital drawing tools for Blade Runner 2049. As part of his creative process, Jean collaborated closely with both Darren Aronofsky and Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro, a long-time fan of Jean's work, describes his drawings as having "a delicate nature to them and beautiful line work that is at the same time realistic and sort of elevated into a style of his own." Jean's posters uniquely evoke the tone and mood of each film without overtly revealing depictions of plot.

In 2019, Lotte Museum of Art in Seoul hosted "Eternal Journey," a major retrospective of Jean's work. Over 500 works were on view in the exhibition, including large-scale paintings, sculpture, installation, video art, 150 comic book covers, and more than 200 drawings that served as the inspiration for many of the included works. Nine large-scale paintings explored the theme of obangsaek, or the five fundamental or cardinal colors, a traditional color schema representative of the order of the universe.

Collaborating again with Judson Studios, the oldest family-operated stained-glass maker in the US, Jean created Gaia - Yellow Earth Center (2019), the centerpiece of the Lotte Museum of Art exhibition. The sculpture expands upon his earlier explorations into stained glass for "Azimuth," bringing his visual vocabulary to the traditional medium. Over eight feet in height, the illuminated sculpture, which combines water jet cutting, hand and airbrush painting, and fused glass, depicts the goddess Gaia with a slinking tiger in an all-over composition of natural and geometric elements.

The exhibition was on view from April 4 through September 1, 2019 and is accompanied by an exhibition catalogue with essays by Yoon-Kyung Kwon, Chief Curator at Lotte Museum of Art; Hee-Kyung Song, Art Historian and Professor at Ewha Womans University; and Christopher James Alexander, Architecture, Art, and Design Consultant, Principal of CJA Creative Collaborations.

James Jean

In other news, Rick Owens Fall 2021 fashion show. On the subject of underthings, the pentagram briefs from the January men’s show reappeared here wrapped around evening clutches, the implication being that these alien females had handled the “unhinged male aggression” that those briefs signified.

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