James Jean is a rising star in the art world and a personal favourite artist of mine. He has had a storied career and does not seem to be slowing down in the slightest. Renowned for his virtuosic ability to work across different genres with an imaginative and multifaceted approach to image making, Jean fuses contemporary subjects with aesthetic techniques inspired by traditional Chinese scroll paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, and Renaissance portraiture. By experimenting with different styles and art-historical genres, Jean depicts detailed cosmological worlds that focus on both individual and universal experiences. Layered with imagery drawn from contemporary culture and age-old allegories, he imagines a collective realm of mythological proportions.
1979 – Jean is born in Taipei, Taiwan and raised in New Jersey.
2001, Jean became a cover artist for DC Comics and Marvel Comics, garnering seven Eisner awards, three consecutive Harvey awards, two gold medals and a silver from the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, and a gold medal from the Society of Illustrators of New York. He illustrated covers for the comic book series Fables and The Umbrella Academy, for which he has won six Eisner Awards for “Best Cover Artist” (I highly recommend checking out both comics in its graphic novel form).
2007 – Jean created a mural for the Prada Epicenter stores in New York and Los Angeles. Aspects of the Epicenter mural and the Milan wallpaper were transformed into clothing, handbags, shoes, and packaging. Prada undertook a global campaign that featured Jean’s work in advertising environments, animation, and special events.
2008 – Jean again collaborated with Prada, developing an animated short based on the wallpapers, clothing, and accessories produced in 2007. He wrote, storyboarded, and did the visual development for the animation, which would be eventually titled “Trembled Blossoms”, taken from the poem “Ode to Psyche”, by John Keats.
2011 – Jean’s “Rebus,” a solo presentation at Martha Otero Gallery (at the time located in the Fairfax district in Los Angeles).
2013 – Jean’s work was the subject of “Parallel Lives,” a solo exhibition at Tilton Gallery in New York. Spanning both floors of the gallery, the show debuted a new body of work that fused personal with universal themes, and realism with mythology. Its title drawn from Plutarch’s “Lives of the Noble Greens and Romans,” also known as “Parallel Lives,” the exhibition of paired works explored the tension created from “parallels.”
2016 – Jean’s work was included in “Juxtapoz x Superflat,” organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery. Curated by artist Takashi Murakami and Juxtapoz editor Evan Pricco, the group exhibition brought together artists whose works had been included in the magazine and who had participated in or expanded upon Murakami’s postmodern art movement Superflat. Jean’s painting “Bouquet” served as the marquee image for the exhibition.
2017 – Jean created the poster art for three films in 2017: Darren Aronofsky’s mother!, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, and Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049. Employing different media for each artwork, he hand-painted two character posters for mother! (one for Jennifer Lawrence and another for Javier Bardem), made a charcoal drawing for The Shape of Water, and used digital drawing tools for Blade Runner 2049. As part of his creative process, Jean collaborated closely with both Darren Aronofsky and Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro, a long-time fan of Jean’s work, describes his drawings as having “a delicate nature to them and beautiful line work that is at the same time realistic and sort of elevated into a style of his own.” Jean’s posters uniquely evoke the tone and mood of each film without overtly revealing depictions of plot.
2018 – Jean reunited with Prada to create prints for its Resort 2018 collection. He described the visual effect as a “tangle of floral elements occasionally populated and overrun by rabbits.” Prada brought the collection to Shanghai as part of the brand’s unveiling of Rong Zhai, a 20th-century mansion it restored, and exclusive looks were debuted in vivid reds, yellows, and blues. Jean’s images were used for the brand’s SS2018 Menswear collection. His work also served as the set design for the collection’s premiere at the Via Fogazzaro space. Jean’s collaboration with Prada brought images inspired by graphic novels to high-fashion pieces, blending the superhuman with the human, and with a nod to the thick black lines that divide illustration panels.
2019 – Lotte Museum of Art in Seoul hosted “Eternal Journey,” a major retrospective of Jean’s work. Over 500 works were on view in the exhibition, including large-scale paintings, sculpture, installation, video art, 150 comic book covers, and more than 200 drawings that served as the inspiration for many of the included works. Nine large-scale paintings explored the theme of obangsaek, or the five fundamental or cardinal colors, a traditional color schema representative of the order of the universe.
Collaborating again with Judson Studios, the oldest family-operated stained-glass maker in the US, Jean created Gaia – Yellow Earth Center (2019), the centerpiece of the Lotte Museum of Art exhibition. The sculpture expands upon his earlier explorations into stained glass for “Azimuth,” bringing his visual vocabulary to the traditional medium. Over eight feet in height, the illuminated sculpture, which combines water jet cutting, hand and airbrush painting, and fused glass, depicts the goddess Gaia with a slinking tiger in an all-over composition of natural and geometric elements.
James Jean currently lives and works Los Angeles.