Jonathan Ahn’s life has always straddled the Eastern and Western worlds, and his works express that duality. However, they share one important quality: a confident mastery of the medium that may seem especially rare in an artist still in the early stages of his professional career-rare, that is, until you realize that in his early years, Ahn was a classic example of a child prodigy.
In 1979, 2-year-old Jungsuk was visiting his grandmother in the countryside outside of Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city. One day, the youngster saw some cows in a nearby field. “I came back to my grandmother’s house and drew [the scene] exactly as I saw it,” he recalls. The boy’s talent was vividly apparent. “My grandmother knew how to do traditional Korean ink paintings, and she tried to teach me,” says Ahn.
Back in Korea, when Jon was 4 years old, his parents enrolled him in a private art academy aimed at high-school-level students. “At first, the other students just thought I was cute,” says Ahn, hesitating and then adding, “until I started doing paintings better than theirs. But to me the classes were just fun, a plaything.”
Art playtime quickly turned more serious when Ahn was 7 […] with his parents’ support, Jon began studying painting privately under the mentorship of Nancy Angell-Rickenbacker, a former student of Pablo Picasso and Oskar Kokoschka. “She was very gentle and nurturing but had very high expectations and expected exceptional work every time,” Ahn says.
After high school, in 1996, Ahn moved across the Atlantic to study art history and computer science at the American University of Paris. Soon after his arrival, his devotion to painting took a serious blow with news that Angell-Rickenbacker had died suddenly at the age of 58. “I was so sad,” he says, “and I didn’t do anything art-related for about two years.”
American Artist Jonathan Ahn Painting
Eventually, his love of art re-emerged. He began to brush up on his skills by visiting Paris’ great museums in his spare time, making personal copies of masterworks by the likes of Théodore Géricault and Claude Monet. And, he says, “Nancy’s lessons continued to stick to me, just like the smell of the dark-roast coffee she always drank.”