Welcome to Jamsan's world
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Welcome to Jamsan's world

Renowned Korean artist's illustrations are being showcased in an exhibition at Maison JE Bangkok

Korean artist Jamsan at his solo exhibition 'Jamsan's Director's Cut'.
Korean artist Jamsan at his solo exhibition 'Jamsan's Director's Cut'.

Once upon a time, the Shadow Witch stole the faces of three people -- a boy with a mask, a hollow Tin Princess and a man trapped in a box. To find their faces, the trio embarked on a journey in a camper van together. They went through adventures and challenges and eventually learned that the Shadow Witch wanted their courage to seek happiness, not their faces.

Finding The Real Face is one of several dark fairy tales in the South Korean TV drama It's Okay To Not Be Okay which premiered on Netflix in 2020. The drama tells the story of a children's book author. Besides its intriguing storyline that explores mental health and childhood trauma, illustrations of darkly whimsical characters and atmosphere by Korean artist Jamsan captivate viewers.

The five storybooks in the series that Jamsan illustrated became best sellers. Due to his hectic schedule, it took some time for Jamsan to organise the solo exhibition "Jamsan's Director's Cut" at Maison JE Bangkok.

"This exhibition showcases both publicly recognised paintings and those rarely seen except for special occasions. The exhibition features paintings that appeared in It's Okay To Not Be Okay, including the initial and concept sketches. Moreover, there are sketches that were not meant to be featured in the drama. Therefore, the title of this exhibition is 'Jamsan's Director's Cut', " said Jamsan.

Jamsan's illustrations for It's Okay To Not Be Okay.

The exhibition is divided into two sections. On the 1st floor, there are 25 contemporary art pieces from his debut collections "Red Chair" and "Rose From The Stars", while the 2nd floor showcases digital paintings and concept art from the Korean TV series It's Okay To Not Be Okay and Encounter.

The 25 paintings on the 1st floor are titled either Red Chair or Rose From The Stars. The paintings with the title Red Chair depict a girl with big eyes and long hair sitting on a chair or the same girl in the embrace of a huge red bear. Meanwhile, the paintings titled Rose From The Stars depict the same little girl travelling with either a red bear or a cactus with stars or the moon in the background.

At the opening ceremony, Jamsan stood by one of the Red Chair paintings across the entrance. This Red Chair painting depicts a girl and a cactus on a red chair. On the floor near the red chair is a small blue house, a piece of cactus and a red rose.

Red Chair.

"This exhibition is the journey of the girl who travels to many places. Stars in the paintings symbolise good things in life. Objects scattered on the floor are things that people often forget. The red rose on the floor signifies neglected love. The blue house is my personal symbol which represents pain. All symbols were created as representations of emotions," Jamsan explained.

"At this age, people want to possess certain things and want to keep certain memories. Therefore, red is used to represent desire. The red bear was created because initially a red chair travels with the girl, but later the chair was changed to be a bear. Although adorable illustrations are used to appeal to viewers of all ages, the narrative still reflects an adult perspective."

When Jamsan was asked why the girl's expression is emotionless in every painting, he responded that it was his intention to make viewers question the girl's blank expression.

"The girl's lips were difficult to draw. The lines of her lips are thinner than my signature. Her lips can effectively convey emotions in the paintings," he said.

Many paintings with the title Rose From The Stars depict the girl with the cactus by her side surrounded by shooting stars in the background.

Jamsan's illustration for Encounter.

Rose From The Stars.

"The time before starfall is the best moment of someone's life. In this painting, the girl is remembering the best moment in her life. It is the idea of people feeling that, 'Remember me when I was at my best'. It is like wanting to keep the best moment in life and cherish it," explained Jamsan.

Jamsan, who has been a concept artist and illustrator for over 20 years, revealed that he created illustrations for It's Okay To Not Be Okay without seeing the script.

"While working on the TV series, I had to draw illustrations within a limited time frame. I was in a situation where I had to produce illustrations after speaking to the director on the phone. It was an exhausting period. I have worked on this kind of commercial art for over 20 years. Before working on illustrations, I had to listen to clients and figure out what to do quickly. I learned a lot from working on this series," he said.

"I initially thought that my illustrations would appear in the series for only a few seconds, so I had to express emotions and make viewers feel connected within those few seconds. Thus, I decided to use line art for my illustrations."

Jamsan explained that he used a zombie character and created cruel fairy tales because living in this world is a mix of fear and excitement.

"I chose to draw a zombie character because its connotation is not difficult to understand. Presenting through children's stories is not a roundabout way of telling a story, but it is not as straightforward as force feeding the viewer. Incorporating different characters into stories makes effective storytelling," Jamsan explained.

Unlike his experience on It's Okay To Not Be Okay, Jamsan had the chance to read the script beforehand when working on Encounter. In It's Okay To Not Be Okay, his illustrations are hauntingly beautiful, but in Encounter, his illustrations are more surreal and fantastical.

Finding The Real Face, a dark fairy tale in It's Okay To Not Be Okay.

"For Encounter, I created the concept art by depicting each episode as an adult fairy tale, focusing on symbolic elements to convey emotion. For a video in the series, I created about 100 illustrations which I did not use, but I wanted to draw them anyway. It was fun, but exhausting. There are two pieces in this series that are my favourites. These illustrations received positive feedback from viewers. I believe I will continue to release new illustrations."

Now that he is internationally recognised with fans worldwide, Jamsan aims to challenge himself by creating more varied work in the future.

"From now on, I plan to show more variety. One part of that first process was the transformation of the chair into a bear. After that, I recreated the concept of the girl's hair. It is a step-by-step process to create a more interesting presentation within the flow of the story."

"Jamsan's Director's Cut" runs at Maison JE Bangkok, Surawong Road, until July 21. Admission is free. For more information, visit facebook.com/maisonjebangkok.

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