Young il Ahn Bio


Young-il Ahn in his studio in downtown Los Angeles, 2017. Photograph by the Los Angeles Times.

Young-il Ahn in his studio in downtown Los Angeles, 2017. Photograph by the Los Angeles Times.

Born in 1934 in Geaseong, Korea to an artist father and musician mother, Young-il Ahn spent his early childhood in Japan before the family returned to Korea during World War II. Regularly encountering painting and art books in his father’s studio, Ahn began painting from an early age. He was considered a child prodigy, having his first solo exhibition in Tokyo at the age of six. Music has also played a key role in Ahn’s life, and he is skilled in piano, clarinet, and cello. 

Ahn majored in art at Seoul National University and showed his work frequently at the popular Bando Gallery, a venue that attracted the attention of many Americans active in Seoul during and after the Korean War. Thanks to the encouragement of the staff at the United States embassy, Ahn was included in a 1957 group exhibition at the World Art Gallery in New York City. The artist moved to New York in 1966, then shortly thereafter to Los Angeles, where he continues to live and work.

The artist is widely known for his large-scale abstract works inspired by the theme of water, which he has been creating over three decades. After a transformative near-death boating incident off the coast of Catalina Island in 1983, the artist became preoccupied with the ocean’s infinite permutations of color, light, and texture. These works are at once lyrical and disciplined, utilizing meticulous blocks of layered color to capture the aesthetic and emotional qualities of the ever-changing sea.

Ahn’s work is associated with the Korean artistic movement Dansaekhwa. This style, which developed in the late 1960s and has experienced a resurgence since the turn of the twenty-first century, focuses on tactility, the material properties of media, and the spiritual and meditative qualities of applying and manipulating artist materials.

Works by Young-il Ahn have been exhibited across California, Chicago, New York, and Korea. He was a US Artist Ambassador to Vienna, Austria from 2002-2005, and in 2017 he became the first Korean-American artist to have a solo show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Ahn’s work has appeared in the New York Armory Show, Art Basel Hong Kong, the Art Busan International Art Fair, and the Korea International Art Fair. His paintings are included in many prominent collections, including LACMA, the Long Beach Museum of Art, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.