Growing up in the aftermath of the Korean War, Jungmoo Ahn tried painting away his hunger, anger and loneliness, he said.
Now, Ahn paints his satisfaction with life and his love of nature in a southeast Vancouver studio that’s not far from craggy mountains and gushing waterfalls that remind him of Korea.
Ahn’s sweeping, stylized landscape paintings and his detailed portrayals of local scenes will be on display this weekend when he opens his studio to visitors during the annual Clark County Open Studios self-guided tour.
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, art lovers and shoppers are welcome to visit the studios and workshops of 50 Clark County artists and makers who are eager to display not just what they make, but how and where they make it.
“We invite the community to step into the artist’s world and be inspired by the process of creativity,” said Open Studios event director Jennifer Williams, a painter whose Ridgefield studio is one of the stops on the tour. “You’ll find inspiration, connect with others, and learn first-hand about painting techniques, printmaking, sculpture, glass, ceramic, jewelry, fiber arts, photography and much more.”
To preview participating artists and plan your own self-guided tour, visit artstra.org/open-studios where you’ll find photos, addresses and an interactive map. The map also details which studios are wheelchair accessible. Paper maps can be found at the following local galleries: Art at the Cave and Aurora in downtown Vancouver; Vancouver Art Space at Vancouver Mall; Attic Gallery in Camas.
Pick up a map while meeting some of the artists and sampling their work during a First Friday preview set for 5-8 p.m. Friday at the Art at the Cave gallery, 108 E. Evergreen Blvd. The Open Studio sampler show remains on display there through November.
Your appreciation for the Clark County landscape is sure to grow as you visit artist studios and workshops in settings as picturesque as a historic barn in Vancouver and an alpaca farm in Camas, not to mention converted attics, sun rooms and garages.
New to the annual event are daughter-and-dad team Jessica Joner, a potter-painter-photographer, and Larry Holt, a metal sculptor, who occupy side-by-side studios on the south side of Salmon Creek. Joner, the mother of four, recently received a bachelor of fine arts degree at Portland State University. Holt, a retired precision welder, is a self-taught artist who sculpts metal as well as making furniture and jewelry.
Also new to Open Studios is lapidarist Richard Britschgi. Lapidary is the art of shaping rocks and gems by cutting, tumbling, grinding and polishing them. Britschgi has transformed his La Center garage into a lapidary workshop where he fashions insects, animals, birds and other fun forms.
Returning to Open Studios is painter Jungmoon Ahn, whose mystical mountain landscapes and familiar outdoor scenes both feature the unique imprint of his upbringing in Korea and his training in classical Chinese brush-and-ink painting.
When he was one year old, Ahn said, his mother carried him on her back while fleeing North Korea for the South. He was still a child when the Korean War broke out, leaving the nation in ruins and hunger. Later he served in the Vietnam War.
After all that misery, Ahn said, “I painted hard to forget.”
Ahn might have inherited artistic genes from his father, who doodled and drew Korean flags, he said, but for him it became a singular passion at an early age. The young Ahn drew portraits of his parents and of glamorous American stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton until artworks by his teachers inspired him to get more serious, he said.
He studied classical Chinese painting at Hongik University in Seoul. When his brother, a Baptist minister, was invited to pastor a church in Washington, D.C., Ahn and his wife, Yangja, jumped at the chance to move there too. But they found the East Coast boring and flat, and Ahn yearned for mountainous terrain that thrilled him like Korea. Now with infant daughter, the couple moved to Seattle.
While his passion was always art, Ahn paid the bills for years by working as a dental technician, performing tasks like making tooth crowns.
“I’m good with my hands,” he said.
The Ahn family moved to Walnut Creek, Calif., and then, after he retired, to Vancouver in 2015. They’ve also traveled the world and revisited Korea so Ahn could teach and keep family connections alive.
Ahn and his wife said they love Southwest Washington, where their daughter’s family, including two grandchildren, are right nearby. And the artist lights up with smiles while discussing the local peaks and waterfalls that keep him climbing and painting. Waterfalls are his very favorite subject, Ahn said.
He said he aims to capture “the spiritual vitality of nature.” He begins by studying and meditating upon photos of his scene and planning precisely what he intends to do.
Then he paints in a mindful, brave and unforgivingly quick fashion. When you’re applying bold ink brushstrokes to thin paper, Ahn said, there are no erasures, do-overs or mistakes hidden below layers. Every line is permanent and cannot be covered up, so every line must contain the motion and spirit of real life, he said.
“My mind enters that place and my mind is very happy,” Ahn said.