Discovery Series: Interview with Hanna Chung
Rhoni Blankenhorn for COMPANY
(Sept 30, 2011) For all the darkness in Hanna Chung’s charmingly twisted paintings, each has a sweetness that tugs at any viewer’s childhood memories. Reminiscent of and at times inspired by fairy tales, Hanna’s wide-eyed hybrid creatures speak to the animal in all of us. Hanna was born in Waukegan, Illinois and spent her childhood split between Champaign, Illinois and Korea. She attended the Rhode Island School of Design and now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
COMPANY: How did you get started as an artist?
Hanna Chung: I was always interested in drawing and painting, but I was told you couldn’t make a living as an artist. So I studied apparel design with the intention of making costume. I ended up working in the fashion industry for almost two years but had no interest in it. After I quit, I dabbled in a couple things and realized I should just paint because I love it and can’t stop thinking about it. I spent some time teaching myself how to paint. Contrary to the saying, I was starving before I became an artist.
COMPANY: How would you describe your work to someone who’s never seen it?
Hanna: Cartoony animals, cute but a little dark. I have always been interested in cartoons. I actually originally wanted to study animation but ended up in apparel only because the animation department was full. I did take a class in stop motion animation and I use the techniques of making stop motion puppets into doll making. I like to think that the characters in my paintings are animated puppets.
COMPANY: What are your biggest inspirations right now?
Hanna: Puppets and dolls. I like to paint the story behind them. Growing up I loved the puppets in Jim Henson’s Dark Crystal and Labrynth, and still do. In college I got into the stopmotion of the Brothers Quay.
COMPANY: What is your favorite children’s story, and has it shown up in your work?
Hanna: A Wrinkle in Time and a Cricket in Times Square. These stories don’t directly appear in my work, but my memories as a child tied to those books. Initially I was influenced by Alice in Wonderland and expressed it directly in my work but since then try to avoid the overly popular Alice in Wonderland theme and have been focusing more on giving my own emotions and experiences a fairy tale twist.
COMPANY: Has your time at RISD studying fashion influenced your art?
Hanna: My history in fashion doesn’t directly influence my painting, but my painting does influence the dolls I make. The sewing skills I learned in school definitely come in handy for that as well. When I stopped working in fashion, I shifted away from it and now focus just on art. I am interested in costume history but I have little interest in fashion design.
COMPANY: What is your favorite amongst your own works?
Hanna: I love Little Pinky Split. I can’t really describe why, but sometimes you just have an intense connection to a piece.
COMPANY: What was it like to sell your first piece? Was it hard to let go?
Hanna: I was really excited. I felt like I finally accomplished something, like I was validated as a working artist. Not saying that you need to sell work to be a legitimate artist, but it feels good when someone likes and connects with your work enough to want to buy it. At the same time it is hard to let go. It is almost like giving up a child.
COMPANY: What are your relationships like with collectors?
Hanna: Respectful. My paintings are like my diary, so in that sense I am trusting my collectors with the thoughts and feelings I had when I was working on those paintings. There is something very intimate about that. Even if I don’t have particularly close relationships with all of my collectors, we have the actual work as a shared point of interest, a bond.
COMPANY: What is the first thing you do when you get to your studio?
Hanna: I sit and stare at my painting for a while, sometimes hoping it will talk back.
COMPANY: What are you working on now?
Hanna: I am in the middle of a series dedicated to animals I have come across who have suffered or been mistreated. I love animals and when I hear of or see animals who have lived hard lives at the cruel hands of others, it really effects me. I have such a soft spot for animals, and I want bring awareness of some of the hardships they endure through my work.
Hanna's awesomely strange vision can be a part of your collection. Check out her Limited Edition Prints: Hanna's favorite Little Pinky Split, the folkloric Bird Girl, and the Alice in Wonderland inspired Teacups and Saucers.