Photo: [peasant life]
Hi! My name is Mike Han, and I'm an artist and designer based in Detroit with Korean heritage. I am a Cheongju Han (a royal Korean clan known as House of Han) whose lineage dates back over 1,000 years. I was born in Ann Arbor, MI and the first born in America on my mother's side. She immigrated with her family into Detroit's Cass Corridor during the early 70s, and my father immigrated into Ypsilanti at about the same time from South Korea.
I have lived in LA, NYC, Miami, Chi, Denver, but no matter where I go, I consider Detroit home. I currently live and work in downtown Detroit with a creature called Tum Tum. He's got one squished little ear, FIV (cat AIDS), and is my Emotional Support Animal (although I'm pretty sure I'm his Emotional Support Human 'cause he's super needy).
Tum Tum rules.
My creative practice is the confluence of Korean calligraphy, Keith Haring inspo (and late 80s/ early 90s graffiti from NYC), and modern design. I strive to achieve dynamic balance in art and life by connecting people, places, and ideas through organic and abstract mark making. Much of my work is made in sharp contrast, to illuminate the ubiquitous truths of life that are too close for us to see.
I believe the highest form of art is a life well lived, and so I find myself chasing my paintings as I seek to live life the way I make marks; fluid yet deliberate and confident, open and honest. My practice is an effort to overcome anxiety and fear through organic mark making while seeking dynamic balance with a mindfulness of materials. I strive to live and create with purpose, continuous improvement, joy, kindness, and generosity. My paintings are an effort to distill a chaotic, messy, and meandering journey with the clarity and focus one might achieve when photographing a moment of time.
I work on manufactured, hand crafted, and found objects to better understand and explore how to live with the hope of doing it well. In my previous life, I was a sushi chef, driven to create sustainably. My attention to materials (ingredients) and sensitivity to their life and death, are remembered and translated into my visual art. My work, whether with organic or inorganic materials, explores my identity as a Detroiter with Korean heritage, sustainability, and the ways in which we are all connected.
My practice is burdened and bolstered by the understanding that in order to create, you must destroy. From this truth, I describe much of my work as Modern Vandalism. Modern Vandalism is the mindful act of destroying materials, products, and/or space in an effort to create value. We are all human, and from our environment's perspective, we are all vandals. We destroy, deface, and consume this place without permission.
I struggle to define value, and seek to better understand when is value. Sustainability is a paradox that seems to be time bound, and in most instances, it, just like value, is measured by perception. Sustainability is an idea that humans may not be capable of., and that's terribly depressing and paralyzing. But we must live, and for humans that requires creating and consuming, so for me the question always comes back to, "how might we live well?"
Mike has exhibited work in Seoul, South Korea, Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor, and has created work for clients in NYC, Chicago, and Osaka, Japan. Han has been commissioned to make art for Bloomingdale's 150th Anniversary, Google for Startups, LinkedIn, vitaminwater, Patrick Thompson Design, the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, Bamboo Royal Oak, Batch Brewing Co., HOMES Campus, and more.
Han has paintings in the permanent collections of Mercedes Benz Financial Services, Huntington Bank, Henry Ford Health Systems, Shinola Hotel, The Daxton Hotel, and the homes of private collectors and prominent leaders like Cindy Pasky and Dan Gilbert. Mike has collaborated with MarxModa (on MillerKnoll products), SEE Eyewear, Synecdoche Design, Leon Speakers, Mothfire Beer, and Coffehaus.
Han has created art installations for Red Bull and vitaminwater, and his work has been featured on BBC World News, Cool Hunting, designboom, Architecture's Digest, Apartment Therapy, Live in the D, the Urban Outfitters Blog, Detroit Home, Detroit Free Press, and Mike's story made the front page of the Detroit News in 2022.
Mike has been an awards juror for ArtPrize, Ann Arbor Street Art Fair (The Original), and The CSCA's Creative Best Awards.
In 2021 Han won an Art Prize Equity Grant, was awarded a Red Bull Micro Grant, and made the cover of SEEN Magazine. Han has had work purchased by Paramount Pictures for use in a feature film and his 2021 art installation at Art Prize was featured in the feature film Block Party.
Mike's artistic practice, focused on the truth that we are all connected, is made tangible in his work to support causes and non-profits he cares about. In the past two years Mike has helped raise over $220,000 for various causes that work to fight breast cancer, stop Asian hate, educate youth on art and entrepreneurship, and more.
Mike was the founder of Street Culture Mash, a Detroit creative agency, which was responsible for creating and facilitating the Woodward Windows Project. The project transformed 7 vacant buildings in downtown Detroit into a world class public art gallery during 2011-2013 in partnership with 323 East Gallery, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, Farbman Group, and with support from Strategic Staffing Solutions. In less than two years, Han's work became a catalyst for economic development in downtown as he vacated the spaces to make room for H&M, Bonobos, and Madewell.
Prior to Mike's success as a visual artist, he was an idealistic sushi chef. Mike opened NYC's first sustainable omakase sushi restaurant in the East Village. It was distinguished as a "Best New Restaurant in NYC" by the Village Voice in 2017 along side Michelin starred restaurant Cote. Han has lead sushi teams at highly acclaimed restaurants like Zuma in Miami, Roka Akor in downtown Chicago, and was formerly Chef De Cuisine for Bamboo Sushi in Denver (part of the world's first sustainable sushi restaurant group).
Han also opened Detroit's first sustainable sushi restaurant in 2018 which was the second restaurant he opened with both Seafood Watch and Smart Catch certifications. Mike has had the honor of making sushi at the James Beard House for a sustainable seafood dinner with acclaimed chefs from around the country.
As a chef, Mike was featured in the last print issue of The Village Voice, Edible Manhattan, Denver Westword, Detroit Free Press, and has done live TV segments in Chicago and Detroit. Although Mike no longer has any desire to open a restaurant, he plans to develop and express his Korean-American style of sustainable sushi as ephemeral art experiences in Detroit.