When C-print met Sally
It's with great pleasure that Team C-print presents an interview with the amazingly talented NYC-based painter Sally J. Han who we are working with in the curated group exhibition'You Were Bigger Than the Sky, You Were More Than Just A Short Time' that just opened at Belenius in Stockholm. Pinch us, please!
C-P: Hello Sally, I'm so excited to be working with you in the group exhibition 'You were bigger than the sky, you were more than just a short time' that I'm currently curating together with Ashik Zaman at Belenius in Stockholm. Before diving into your work, tell me a little about your background. You were born in China, raised in South Korea and later moved to NYC, correct? How long have you been based in the city and does the city find itself in your work?
S.J.H: Hi Koshik, I am so happy to be a part of this exhibition, thank you again for curating such an amazing show. Yes, I was born in China and my parents and I moved to South Korea when I was 2 years old. We spent 10 years there and we moved back to China again. Then I transferred to another high school in the United States when I was 17. I finished my undergrad and grad school in NYC and still live and work here. This is my 13th year in the U.S. I am not sure how my living experience in different countries affect me in my current artistic practice, but I remember I was a very introverted girl who preferred drawing alone rather than socializing. I’ve always had this idea that we don’t need a translation to understand visual language like drawing, painting or even sculpture. And this has intrigued me so much that it encouraged me to draw more no matter which country I was in. For me, different environments don’t seem to matter much to me.
C-P: I've followed your work long before this exhibition and your growth as a painter is quite remarkable. I was already quite mesmerized around the time of your first solo exhibition 'Foreplay' at Fortnight Institute in NYC, the gallery that now represents you. It's evident that you have a very close rapport with the two gallerists, Fabiola Alondra and Jane Harmon. Take me back to how your paths initially crossed.
S.J.H: We actually got to know each other on Instagram! I was just fresh out of grad school (NYAA) at the time and continued to use my IG account as an “art portfolio”. So I was very excited to notice that a gallery in the East Village started following my account. I looked into their website, current and past shows and I immediately fell in love with their taste. The show at that time was Felipe Baeza’s solo exhibition 'La Emergencia de Hacer Memoria' and I was very happy to see his work in person. Then I met Fabiola at the gallery, I introduced
myself to her and we kept in touch afterwards. As a foreigner, I never thought I would ever have a chance to enter the art world, but I was fortunate enough to meet Fabiola and Jane, who have been supportive and believed in me as an artist from the very beginning.
C-P: There's an apparent sense of the viewer meeting the image of “you” through your painting. Tell me about the "you factor" in your painting.
S.J.H: Although I have painted my face, I am still quite hesitant to say it is my self-portrait. Because I often describe a figure in my painting as just a figure, no specific person yet. I don’t know why, I am not ready to say that the paintings that have my face in it, are self-portraits, unless I title it so.
In my studio, I am the most available person to paint, ha!
C-P: When we met in NYC back in November last year, it really shone through how much you love to paint. I especially love the sense of detailing in your works and I've noticed that certain occurrences reappear throughout your body of work; e.g. decks of cards and board games, books and food, like 'At Lupe's (2022) where a girl is seated alone at a table eating Mexican food. In that particular work, I also love the nod to Frida Kahlo's 'Viva la Vida, Watermelons' (1954). Tell me about how you approach a new work?
S.J.H: I often begin my practice from observing my surroundings then add familiar and personally meaningful objects to compose a painting. I think of each painting as my journal with a little bit of imagination. It reflects what I have been experiencing at the moment and what I aspire to be.
C-P: Team C-print are big readers, so we are all wondering if you are too and what you might be reading at the moment?
S.J.H: I am reading a collections of essays by Pearl S. Buck in Korean as of right now. Oddly, I cannot find the English title for this one but my direct translation from Korean to English is “life theory for young women”.
C-P: The back story of the show that we are doing together is that figurative painting by queer and BIPOC artists is having a momentum right now internationally but it's not at all reflected in the local art scene here in Stockholm. While the shift has been happening for a while, the galleries and institutions here are very slow to pick up. For us, it's feels like a privilege to be able to present this show and the narratives of such a great a roster of artists. For the show, you have made two new beautiful paintings. Tell me a little about the ideas that went into the making these.
S.J.H: I had a dream about a full moon, that is gradually covering the night sky and all I could see then was myself and my surrounding filled with the texture and the ambiance of the moon. When I show my paintings to the viewers, the thing that I want to stand out is my truthfulness of the moment and my immediate reaction to the subject confronting me. I don’t really think about my ethnicity too much.
C-P: Also, I'm a little curious to know what might be some of the artists that you look up to?
S.J.H: I love the works of Domenico Gnoli for his brain, Pierre Bonnard for his intimate settings, Frida Kahlo for her bravery in all aspects of life and Gregory Gillespie for his odd natured realism.
C-P: Lastly, what else is coming up for you this year?
S.J.H: I will be in a group show, 'Thinking of You' at FLAG Art Foundation in NYC in April, and another upcoming group show 'Pictures Girls Make: Portraiture Through the Lens of Progress' curated by Alison Gingeras at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles in September. One of my works will also be shown at Art Basel in June with Jeffrey Deitch Gallery.
'You Were Bigger Than the Sky, You Were More Than Just A Short Time' runs until April 15, 2023, at Belenius in Stockholm.
Sally J. Han is represented by Fortnight Institute in NYC. All images except for installation view from Belenius courtesy of Fortnight Institute. Installation view at Belenius; Ellinor Hall/Belenius