Jess Han

Jess Xiaoyi Han (b.1997 Dalian, China) is a painter currently based in New York City. She received her BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts in 2019. Han’s work has been shown at both Ross + Kramer Gallery’s locations in New York City & East Hampton, Sens Gallery in Hong Kong, Fir gallery in Beijing, China, and the Himalayan center in Shanghai, China.
March 6, 2023
Tell us about your practice.
I’m a painter based in Brooklyn, NY, and I create works that consist of abstract imagery on canvas using a medium called alkyd. My paintings feature imaginative shapes and lines that interact with each other in seemingly chaotic but intricate ways. Most of the paintings have a round floating orb, sometimes plain and sometimes decorated, it represents the Sun and Me. Because of the constant relocation during my teenage years and adult life, the mood and feel of my paintings change depending on where I lived and the events that happen in my life as well.
It’s interesting to see how your earlier works are more rooted in portraiture. What led you to transition your practice into abstract expressionism?
I have always been drawing figures ever since I was around 5, I liked the fact that everyone looks and feels different, even twins. The subtle variations of characteristics in every face really intrigued me, and I had always secretly challenged myself to make as many unique faces in my imagination as possible. Entering college as an illustration major I was mentored by one of my favorite painters — TM Davy, who makes these incredible illuminating figure paintings, and I was influenced by him quite a lot. But I realized after a while that when I paint figures from life or from reference, I feel as if I am capturing someone else’s moments, and what I really wanted to do was to paint moments from my life and how I was feeling. So when I started doing my abstract paintings with watercolor as the medium, it immediately felt right.
Can you tell us a little about your approach to color and material? Your work with Alkyd is not a medium you usually see.
Alkyd is a stable acrylic-based oil paint. It is a fast-drying oil paint, so it starts to dry in 2 hours and dries fully after a whole day, which means I can work back into the painting without waiting and can make a lot of progress without stressing about drying times. It was introduced to me by my professor TM Davy, and I believe he uses it as well. I usually don’t restrict myself to a single color palette, unless I see something one day that really makes me want to make a blue/green painting, etc. I think the more the merrier, and I really prefer clean-looking colors.
While your paintings are very much abstract the titling of them seems to ground them in reality. Do you see your work as a representative of specific moments? Or something more fantastical?
It definitely oscillates between the two; In my show on view right now at Ross + Kramer, I combined both representative moments and fantastical imagery. The painting “implosion” in the show combines memories of my childhood in China and some elements from my dreams; in this case a memory of when my hometown Dalian had a bustling economy and an exciting city life, and young people would fly colorful kites in the city squares, meanwhile, now the city has an aging population, and most young people have migrated to the south of China. but most of the paintings I have made in the past have been more specific moments in my life that had big impacts on me.
What has been inspiring you lately?
I have actually been playing The Sims a lot when I am not painting. It surprisingly stimulates me in almost the same way as painting. Through the endless variations from building houses to creating different figures, I find it to be similar to the deep meditation state I tend to be in painting, and it has proven to get me into painting faster! Oh, and I have been looking at a lot of Agnes Pelton’s works.
What’s next for you?
My most immediate show ahead is art central HK with Sens Gallery at the end of March, (and a solo show at the beginning of next year in Hong Kong!) I am mostly excited to keep experimenting in the studio as now I have more time after my show!

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