Today we’d like to introduce you to Debbie Han.
Debbie, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
My life as an artist has been a continuously unfolding journey into the unknown, in every sense of the word. I knew that I was destined to be an artist at an early age and have been pursuing my passion for art since childhood. My family immigrated from South Korea in the seventies and settled down in Los Angeles. I grew up in Los Angeles, received my undergraduate degree in art from UCLA. Then I moved to New York to go to grad school at Pratt Institute, after which I returned to Los Angeles to teach at Santa Monica College. I was teaching and exhibiting as a young artist but soon grew haunted by a desire to see different worlds from that which I was familiar with and to create art for a cause.
I started participating in various artist residency programs not only domestically but also in Asia and Europe as a way to explore diverse cultures and ways of life. Consequently, my creative vision grew immensely and for almost a decade following, I was traveling non-stop to Asia and Europe to undertake various art projects and for exhibitions. These projects allowed me the first-hand experience to observe and interact with different cultures in East Asia and Western Europe. It was an amazing experience to be on a creative role at this scale, feeling as if the world was like a playground and I was completely open to where my creative vision would take me.
When those projects executed abroad completed in 2010, I had four consecutive solo exhibitions in four countries- in the US, South Korea, Hong Kong, and Germany. I returned to Los Angeles afterwards and started working in a new direction. For the last three years, I worked primarily in New York where I ran a studio in Brooklyn as well as in Los Angeles. I closed my Brooklyn studio this spring and moved back to Los Angeles so that I can better focus on my work in one place. Having traveled to so many different places in the past has made me truly appreciate Los Angeles.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
I am a visual artist who works in multi-media and multi-genres. My first medium was painting, then I moved on to sculpture, photography, ceramics, and installation. In my work, the very vision or message I want to convey determines how it should be expressed – i.e. genre, material, technique, etc. Once a project is completed, I never repeat the same technique or style again. Every new project I start therefore becomes a new exploration into the unknown where I find a new way of expression. My projects usually last a few years to a decade to complete. I often work on more than one project at a time because I want to see how an idea can be expressed in different genres or materials.
One of my most representative works is the photo series titled the “Graces” series and its sequel the “Color Graces” series, which combine the bodies of contemporary women with classical European sculpture heads. The elusive and metaphorical figures in these works address multi-layered issues from perception, identity, to cultural and racial dynamics of our time. Many of my sculpture series also mix together different traditions from different parts of the world to give birth to new, hybrid forms to convey contemporary experiences. For instance, my sculpture installation titled “Battle of Conception,” stages on a large table thirty-two Venus heads with reconstructed facial features in a chess game format.
Each head presents hybrid facial features of diverse racial and ethnic characteristics. These busts are created in the authentic ceramic tradition of Korean celadon. My work often challenges our familiar cultural notions and social beliefs, as a way to investigate the ways in which people define themselves and their worlds. I think the process of “culturalization” is an inevitable aspect of contemporary life, but once we become more aware of how culture and society shape our ways of being and views of the world, we can go beyond the seeming ways of things to connect with their essence.
In my recent work, I have been making paintings without using paintbrushes or colors -perhaps the two most important tools that define painting – to explore new ways to approach painting. What I have been focusing on nowadays in my life and art are human relationships. After an extensive exploration of culture and society, now I am deeply interested in investigating the forces that bring people together beyond all seeming differences -physical, geographical, cultural, and so on.
Art is a way for me to express and communicate with others the very essence of who I am. An artist is a person who follows their voice within, a visionary or a seeker who cannot be tamed and settle for what is given. This is why being an artist is not a nine to five job but a way of being.
What do you think it takes to be successful as an artist?
I believe that true success as an artist is not just being rich and famous but fulfilling your creative vision. Art comes from life, and this is why an artistic vision, in essence, is a vision for life. Faith, courage, and endurance are the most important qualities of an artist.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
People can check out my work on my website or come see the work in person by attending art exhibitions. My website lists my upcoming exhibition schedule.