- Hanna Lee
Jun Yang’s World of Wonder
Once upon a time, there was a man who lived in a garden of the most vibrant colors. This garden overflows with flowers of every imaginable shape and blush, cascading as far as the eye can see. Pools of water hold dancing reflections. Bees and butterflies live happily alongside the hummingbirds. When I find myself in this magical place, created from the imagination of this brilliant man, I feel the most overwhelming sense of happiness. And so can all of you, just by visiting Jun Yang’s Instagram page.
When I stumbled upon his page for the first time, I could have spent hours immersed in the visual serenity his pieces evoke. So, you can imagine my excitement of having the honor to chat with an artist whose work, personally, means so much to me.
Like his paintings, his hair is bright and colorful when he appears on the screen in front of me. It’s dyed green and yellow. “Walking sunflower,” he tells me, smiling. He’s in his studio in San Francisco—the place Jun’s called home for the past 11 years. His journey to get here is one built out of desperation and loss. But, all I see when I look at him is his strength and perseverance.
Jun was born in Seoul, South Korea and lived there most of his life. As he grew older, he remembers struggling as a queer man in Korea. He didn’t feel accepted and able to live authentically. The expectations to get married and start his own family, simply wasn’t the life he wanted for himself. As difficult as it was to have to sever his connection to his home country and everything he knew, staying wasn’t an option. He is simply too self-respecting to fake his way through the rest of his life. So, he fled to find a place he could belong. Jun explains that before he came to the United States, he’d tried living in several cities around Europe. But found it difficult to fit in with the language barrier. That’s when he decided to try again, someplace new, and that place was California.
As a self-taught artist, Jun has used the influences of others as his muse to explore his craft by mimicking techniques and trying to create a painting that looks like something by Vincent Van Gogh or Claude Monet. Yet, his work, is always recognizable by his own unique touch. The many stages in his art exploration are clear when scrolling through his social media page or looking at his website. He also explains that his subject matter varies upon his environment and what surrounds him.
When I ask him where he finds his inspiration for what he decides to paint, he replies: “I open my eyes and look around. There’s the mountains over here, the ocean over there, there’s everything. Everything is beautiful here. I go outside and see the flowers. So, I paint the flowers.”
It’s not just beauty that inspires Jun, though. Many of his creative works represent bigger political, social, and environmental issues, such as paintings of the wildfires that consume California regularly; portraits of people of color, bringing awareness to the beauty of diversity; and so many in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. His incredible works unapologetically represent the queer perspective and have titles like "Love is Love." He has created breathtaking images of Harvey Milk and a memorial portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsburg; his passion has no end.
I’m struck throughout our conversation by how much beauty Jun finds in the world every day. How his struggles haven’t dampened the wonder and joy he’s able to feel in life. And, it seems curious that he was able to find a way to share so much joy, through an outlet that was created out of necessity, from tragedy.
When I ask Jun to tell me about what made him start painting, he tells me that it wasn’t until later in his life after he’d traveled back to Korea to be with his mother, who was dying of cancer. He explains that his struggles with mental health and depression became critical after she passed, and he became afraid for his own ability to continue in this life. That’s when he decided to start painting as a form of therapy. It was a way to expel some of the deep emotions of guilt and sorrow that weighed heavily on him. It’s amazing to think that art saved his life, and still is to this day.
I appreciate Jun’s vulnerability he shows when telling me about his struggles with mental health. It’s courageous that he’s able to speak so openly, helping to normalize conversations surrounding the topic. These days, he isn’t afraid to express himself. Even his fashion sense is bursting with celebration of his unique identity. When I ask him to tell me a little bit about his personal style, he laughs before saying: “I’m Korean; Koreans always look good. Always dressed well; you can see Koreans in a crowd because they’ll always have the best style. And, I can wear whatever I want now because I’m my boss.”
Throughout our conversation, I find my favorite trait about Jun is his charming sense of humor. When I ask him what his advice is for anyone trying to do what he’s doing and may not know where to start, his comical response is: “Just start making art. Make bad paintings so it makes my paintings look even better!”
I urge everyone, who needs a bit of sunshine on their social media feeds, to go follow Jun Yang on Instagram and Facebook. I find my days have been brighter since discovering this vibrant, radiant, and very stylish Korean artist. His irresistible imagination will sweep you into his magical garden. And you’ll find that the real world is made more beautiful once you see it through his eyes.
To Jun, for having the courage to create your own “happily ever after.”
Jun Yang is an artist born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, but San Francisco has been his home for the past 11 years. The city inspires him and his art with its amazing cultural diversity, its celebrated urban landscape and natural beauty. He also enjoys the support and protection it provides him as a gay artist.
Jun can be found on these platforms: