Born in Kae-sung, Korea in 1934, he spent most of his childhood in Tokyo, Japan. His father was an artist and he began painting from early childhood. At age 6, he had his first solo showing. He studied and imitated the color and composition of Paul Cezanne’s work. When he was young, he painted more realistically but gradually became interested in abstract style.
Says Ahn, “In that period, I thought abstract style was the most pure force of the creative process.”
“Abstract Art is not painting the real object. If one is painting a flower abstractly, he should paint the part that he felt most passionately. One should not be restricted by color or form. It could be the combination of all.”
Under his father’s influence, he began to paint and became successful. However, his mother was also a gifted musician and he could have chosen this field as well. As a child, without any training, he played Chopin’s Fantasia from memory. He keeps his instruments of choice: clarinet, cello and piano and occasionally plays with other musical colleagues. He also find inspiration on the canvas from music, thus the creation of the Musician Series. Says Ahn, “Painting is a visual art, but we cannot ignore the auditory component of art.”
He returned to Korea with his parents in 1945 and continued his schooling where his father was teacher in Chung-Ju. Following his reputation as a child prodigy in Japan, he entered the Korean National Exhibition in 1953 with an oil painting called Rabbit Cage. Although he won the top honor, the jury decided not to grant the prize due to his premature age of 19.
The painting, Rabbit Cage, is in a private collection of Mr. Stanley Hietala in Minnesota. Most of his early works are in possession of American collectors and they were instrumental in facilitating his immigration process. They also staged exhibition in New York and Chicago prior to his move to America.
In 1966 he chose to settle in Los Angeles as sponsored artist of Zachary Gallery.
1970 was a difficult decade for Ahn and he found solace in painting almost 400 pieces of the Water Series inspired by the ocean.
“It was hard to begin,” says Ahn with a subdued voice. “It is scary to face the ocean for 24 hours in search of unnamed object. It is a powerful struggle.” After a moment, he continued: “Finally I met the object of my painting. As long as I live I shall continue to paint with honesty and purity.”
-Written by Sang-Ok Song