Spotlight: Hanna Jaeun’s Unreal Surrealism

It’s not often you see really cool modern surrealist art. But Hanna Jaeun’s amazing oil paintings bring to life surreal imagery that looks one part dark fairytale, one part mysterious dreamscape. Her human-animal hybrid paintings bring a human element to animals, and bring out the animal element of humans in a beautifully surreal way. As a former major in apparel design, it seems only fitting that Hanna would have an Artist Shop with us, and we’re stoked that she does!

We talked to this Brooklyn based artist about the messages behind her paintings, how she went from designing apparel to putting her paintings on apparel, and about her Artist Shop. Check out the interview below!

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When did you first start exploring the animal/human themes your paintings delve into?

I have been painting animal/human themes since I first started painting. My style has evolved a bit and my technique has improved over time but the animal/ human theme has always been there. The large animal head and human hybrids started to appear when I was painting animals but felt like it was lacking something unique. I blew up the animal heads and that is when I started exploring that theme.

Via Hanna Jaeun’s Instagram

These animal paintings have an overwhelming sentience to them. What types of themes do you explore in your paintings?

“Crowned Bear”

Thank you. I feel when I look back I have gone through a few phases. I have explored themes of isolation, solitude, dreams and the afterlife. Lately, I have been painting more humans and I am pretty sure I have been hiding behind the animals in the beginning, and as I feel more confident in putting my art out
there humans have been more of an independent character in my paintings. I am looking to integrate all of them in my larger paintings.

It seems like the animal/human combos in your paintings are so effective because they show that we’re all just animals too, and representing larger themes with other animals makes them more approachable to think about. What to you is most effective about using animals to explore certain themes?

Yes, exactly, I do agree. I also feel the expressing emotion though animals can be more profound because animals cannot talk and are somewhat helpless in the urban world. And our raw emotions are animalistic in nature.

Via Hanna Jaeun’s Instagram

You went to school for Apparel Design – how did you make the decision to pursue your love of painting instead? Is being able to put your art on apparel a nice in-between?

Design just did not click with me and I had a hard time thinking in that way. So I quit and I took some classes to explore my options; I dabbled in stop motion animation, children book illustrations and I also tried my hand in puppet and doll making, as well as painting. I realized I had to focus on one thing.

Top from left to right: “Skull in Black and White“, “Chickadee“, “Crowned Bear” | Bottom from left to right: “Ghost Girl“, “Petite Diablesse“, “Sacred
“Tentacle Girl”

Putting my art on T-shirts does allow myself to see my work from a different perspective, which is really new and fun.

What made you decide to open up a Threadless Artist Shop! 

I received an email inviting me to open a shop. My brother had been urging me to do some t-shirts, but I did not have the time and resources to do so. So Threadless was perfect for me. I have not sold paintings on t-shirts before. I wasn’t sure how it would translate but it seems to have worked out! I was impressed with the quality of the print.

How did you select which paintings to put in your Artist Shop?

“Tentacle Girl” WIP work via Hanna’s Instagram

At first, I had to select what was easiest to Photoshop. My computer skills were limited to scanning and piecing together my work. But a friend showed me a couple of tricks and I was able to add some more designs. Also, I have received a request or two from my social media followers. It is always good to hear suggestions and feedback.

You had your art featured at Cotton Candy Machine, owned by fellow Artist Shop owner Tara McPherson! What’s been your favorite gallery to be a part of?

It was when I was just beginning get my foot in the door as an artist. I came across the biennial submissional last minute right before I was leaving on my first trip to Europe and thought why not submit some work? I really didn’t think anything would come of it, but I heard back from them! I was surprised at the response I got, although I felt I wasn’t quite ready for it at the time. It definitely was big push in the right direction and a jump start to my career.


Are there any characters you revisit in your paintings? Are
there any narratives or stories you create/explore?

I find that mice or rats, birds, and flies are recurring characters in my work. I use them to direct the viewer around the painting. They also help narrate a story which I leave up to the viewer to interpret.


Open your own artist shop now!

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Carlyn Hill

Dad joke aficionado, cartoonist, & contributor for sites like HelloGiggles and The Mary Sue by night. When I'm not writing or drawing, you can find me in my cave of a room hanging out with my boyfriend, Netflix.