Fabled guardians appear at the very moment that you gaze upon the artwork of Aries Tjhin. You can sense the urgency of their arrival. It’s impossible not to want to lean in to better hear the message that they bring with their energetic entrances.
Mixed-media artist Aries Tjhin was born in Jakarta, one of Indonesia’s oldest cities. At 8, he moved to the United States and spent his childhood in Fallbrook.
Eventually, Tjhin took his passion for art with him to university where he studied printmaking and painting. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Art from UC Santa Cruz in 2004 and an MFA in printmaking from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008.
With the support of his collegiate community, he came out as a Gay man. Unlike many of his contemporaries who found that experience to become a central part of their art, Tjhin was more interested in exploring universal ideas. Being a first-generation immigrant, a minority, a Gay man and newly living in the Midwest expanded his perspective on the world and how to live in it.
“For me, making art is kind of an exorcism. I find that I have to get the ideas and work down on paper,” said the artist. “I find inspiration in aspects of my personal narrative, cultural storytelling and past masters.”
His figures are often elongated or distorted. Tjhin recognizes that his admiration for the paintings of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele inspired him to play with stretching the human body to express meaning in his own work.
In his current series, Tjhin is taking reference from the color palette and stylization of ancient Asian art. He enjoys researching the vast array of Buddha sculptures and the patterns within early scroll paintings.
“The chrysanthemum has become a prominent feature in my recent works. It’s the flower of change. It speaks to me of the times we live. I think this is my most mature work. I have a newfound confidence in my approach to mixed media that is very exciting,” said Tjhin.
The flowers sometimes are the focal point but more often than not, they become part of a repeating pattern. His goal is to use a simple line to promote an idea. It’s a process that he finds soothing.
Tjhin hopes that viewers respond to his paintings as if they were a forgotten memory just remembered. The kind of feeling that you get from looking at something vintage. He hopes that the work feels comfortable and familiar even if they also seem like they are from another age.
Myths, fables, fairy tales and oral stories that have been passed down through time are intertwined with Tjhin’s personal narrative. For example, an image of a regal prince with a watering can shaped like an elephant becomes a work about gardening and one’s interaction with the environment. He sees this as a form of visual storytelling that allows him to speak to larger concepts.
Though he holds down two jobs at Starbucks and Urban Outfitters, he finds time to keep busy at his artistry. The pandemic has offered him more time to work on his newest series.
“I think artists are fortunate because we have the ability to see beyond the struggle,” said Tjhin. “We have the tools to keep working even if we are under a stay-at-home situation.”
Looking toward the future, Tjhin will continue to participate in group exhibitions with a goal of one day seeing his work in a gallery, museum or corporate collection.
Aries Tjhin can be found online on social media where his works are available for sale: @Artguy82 on Facebook and @ariestjhin on Instagram. You can also find early works on his now abandoned blog: http://ariestjhinart.blogspot.com.
Patric Stillman is a fine artist and gallery owner of The Studio Door. If you are an artist in San Diego’s LGBTQ+ community and would like to be featured in an artist profile, please contact Patric for consideration at [email protected].