Johann Mun at Hans Gallery

Ocher washes and rust-toned streaks mask deposits of underpainting across the sixty-three-inch width of Med(al)$, 2021. The oil-and-sumi-ink-on-canvas composition by Los Angeles–based Johann Mun recalls a cave painting, its surface punctuated by crude and mysterious markings. Some of the artist’s interventions in this piece ape nature: The ridges of his brushstrokes echo wrinkles in a crag, for instance, while an arc of black erupts like an obsidian shard between passages of turquoise and smatterings of earthy beiges. These rugged areas are embellished by inscrutable sequences of dots and lines.

This abstraction is one of eleven canvases on view for “Paraphrasing the New Ardent Centuries,” Mun’s solo exhibition here and first public presentation of these works. If painting is still considered a medium in crisis, his art asserts that it continues to endure, no matter how many times it’s been declared dead. Honed over the past two years, Mun’s semi-Surrealist, AbEx imagery diverges from his parallel practice as a tattoo artist—a body of work that is more graphic and linear, characterized by whimsically rendered creatures, flora, and baroque patterning.

The artist begins each painting with a line drawing, filling in the shapes he creates with color while leaving halos of ground bare around their edges. With this approach, Mun’s numinous images replicate at a viral pace. In Faith Pits, 2021, a crucifix seems to simultaneously deteriorate as it forms, its sundry fragments and intersecting planes breaking off while expanding. Other pictures, such as Pop Music and My Current Event, both 2021, contain strobe-like gradient bands, evoking beams of light being transmitted at a rapid pace. Two more recent works, Seasonal Arpeggio and Big Nice Yard, both 2022, seem as though they were serially produced—like a procession of flying-buttress beams, lambent ribbons replicate across their surfaces. While Mun’s brand of formalism is quite familiar, his art still manages to generate a rich and luminous future.

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