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Review: Regina Hann

REGINA HANN: HER SINCERE PORTRAITS OF CORALS

Chunbum Park

Hackensack, NJ

2024-05-16


Regina Hann. Ocean’s Lament, 2024. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 x 48 inches.

Riverside Gallery, Hackensack, NJ. Image courtesy of the author.

Photograph by Chunbum Park

 

Glitters, ornate colors, forms of femininity and mother nature…

Splatters, drips, and abstraction of color and form…

 

            These are the two opposing qualities or directions of painting that I see in Regina Hann’s portraits of corals, currently on view at the Riverside Gallery. Titled, “Coexistence,” the solo exhibition is a survey of Hann’s mixed media, acrylic, and oil paintings since 2020 that depict the corals as subjects of empathy for the human audience (although she has been painting and pursuing art for a much longer period, including her studies at the Art Students League).

            The exhibition is a kind of cross-species communication and cultural exchange, almost like an encounter with alien life forms, whom Hann has excavated from the depths of the ocean. Corals, which are known but not fully understood by most humans, provide food and habitats for the fish and form reefs by secreting calcium carbonate, which also serves as barriers against tsunamis. Corals are delicate creatures that must inhabit shallow seas with abundant sunlight, due to their dependence on photosynthesis. They also face challenges in reproduction due to human-made light pollution, which cause them to release eggs and sperms in the water beyond the optimal period of their reproductive cycle.

 

Regina Hann. Vanish Together?, 2024. Mixed media on canvas, 48  x 36 inches.

Riverside Gallery, Hackensack, NJ. Image courtesy of the author.

Photograph by Chunbum Park

 

            They are an important part of the Earth’s ecosystem, but we humans treat them so poorly, allowing the corals to perish due to rising acid levels and global temperatures. Our encounter with and treatment of the corals portend our future encounter with an alien civilization, and how we will treat the other… or, more importantly, how we will be treated.

            The symbolic significance of corals is close to that of plants, but underwater. The coral, which is an animal with rather a “passive” appearance and existence like a plant (as opposed to a cat or a beaver), could be mistaken for an exotic flower on land. Or it could also symbolize a woman, who has historically been represented as the Mother Nature (in opposition to Father the “Culture”). Within the Greek mythology, the fish are the allies of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, and the corals are the friends and nurturers of the fish.

            The Greek mythology can be seen as a metaphorized narratives of humans’ experience with inexplicable phenomena and beings of nature, and this contact could include an advanced alien species in the future. Why did the fish help Aphrodite in her birth as well as her and Cupid’s escape from monster giant, Typhoeus? And would the Greek goddess aid the fish in turn by protecting the corals, or would she be carried away by the distractions, desires, and indulgences on land because she herself is not a mermaid?

            On a related note, beauty is of immense importance to Hann, and the artist herself is a very beautiful person on both physical and spiritual level. Aphrodite would have been Hann’s protector had she been a Greek woman in the classical era. Hann’s paintings, then, is the marriage of the concerns for the marine life and aesthetics of beauty. The artist feels that the corals as a subject matter activate her sensibility of color and detail. She dedicated an extensive amount of time and labor to her paintings before she made the stylistic departure to semi-abstraction.


Regina Hann. Mutualism, 2024. Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48  x 30 inches.

Riverside Gallery, Hackensack, NJ. Image courtesy of the author.

Photograph by Chunbum Park

 

            Her large works titled, “Vanish Together?” (2024) and “Ocean’s Lament” (2024) depict the tragic process of death, in which the corals turn white due to the deteriorating conditions in the sea. In the former, biological matter of the corals are painted as smaller units resembling human figures in the former; in the latter, the corals excrete white blood in pain and tragic resignation. These both utilize more immediate brush work, as opposed to the highly labored layering of details, colors, and glitters as seen in her previous works, such as “Let Me Live” (2022).

            Unlike “Ocean’s Lament” (2024) and “Mutualism” (2024), however, “Vanish Together?” (2024) and “Let Me Live” (2022) depict forms in a less abstracted and more verbatim manner. These latter two works carry a more contemporary style or sensibility that shatters the boundary between the illustrational and non-illustrational, departing from the abstract or semi-abstract sensibilities or visual styles of paintings born from Modernism. Contrarily, two former works carry the lessons of Modernism and are abstracted to a higher degree, with the information about light, color, and form curated and selectively put. Hann may have reacted to and absorbed these stylistic influences from seeing the works of late-Modernist and Contemporary artists. For example, Edward Hopper reduced and simplified information of color and detail of texture and form on the shadows and focused them on the highlights and midtones. (I should note that Hopper and Hann’s styles are entirely different.) Edouard Manet as seen in his painting of lilac flowers from 1882 may be stylistically closer to Hann in terms of his floral manner of the brushwork. The splatters of paint as seen in “Ocean’s Lament” (2024) also reminds me of the direction of gestural abstraction pioneered by artists such as Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, although Hann’s work would not exactly qualify as gestural abstraction.


Regina Hann. Let Me Live, 2022. Mixed media on canvas, 72 x 36 inches.

Riverside Gallery, Hackensack, NJ. Image courtesy of the author.

Photograph by Chunbum Park

 

 

            This divergence in style within Hann’s work is due to the two opposing qualities of the artist’s intuition and learning. Like the Korean artists from the Goryeo period who made Buddhist art, Hann mainly prefers to apply infinite labor to her work, which builds detail upon detail and color upon color, breaking up the fragments and regrouping them into a cohesive illusion that is only possibly with great investment of time and labor. This artistic inclination and intuition contradict the lessons of Modernist paintings that less is more, which still resonate with today’s artists.

            Perhaps Hann’s exhibition is not only about the coexistence of corals and humans, but also the coexistence of opposing styles and aesthetical schools of thoughts in art. The artist is clearly capable of both the highly detailed illusionary paintings and the more abstracted portraits of corals. Through endless repetition of the corals as a subject matter, her paintings are no longer about corals but become an investigation of painting itself. In conversing with the artist, however, it is apparent that Hann leans closer to the illusionary, non-abstract representational direction as a painter, which requires high degree of time and labor, reminiscent of the infinite labor practiced by the Korean Buddhist painters. Although a Christian herself, Hann pursues substantial growth and, ultimately, enlightenment through endless effort and investigation of color and form in relation to the subject matter. This… of infinite labor, dedication, and capacity for unconditional love and justice, may be the only way for her, and every other human being, to arrive at a higher place. At this point, we would be able to accept the corals and protect them from harm, thereby elevating ourselves as well and our treatment of each other.

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