Whitehot Magazine

Regina Hann: “Coexistence” at Riverside Gallery explores coral reefs crisis

Regina Hann, Mutualism, 2024, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 48x30 inches. Photo by Chun Park. Courtesy of Riverside Gallery.

Regina Hann: “Coexistence”
Riverside Gallery
Hackensack, NJ
April 27 to May 4, 2024


By MARK BLOCH, May 12, 2024

The Korean American artist Regina Hann likes to say that when the coral reefs recover, only then will mermaids return to the Earth, symbolizing a complete regeneration of nature and  ecological coexistence. Then on a less mythological note, Hann became very serious and explained to me that corals, like us, are animals.

It seems the first animals on this planet were marine invertebrates with shells or exoskeletons. Those of us with spines came later. Corals are just one example of marine animals—500 million years ago they began forming colonies of identical polyps—little sac-like cylinders that stick to surfaces and each other, creating central mouth openings that secrete calcium carbonate to form hard skeletons near their base. These colonies become the reefs—diverse marine ecosystems that require sunlight to survive. That is why they are found mainly in shallow tropical and subtropical waters. But once they took hold, they became the hosts of over 4,000 species of other creatures and are a mainstay of life on this planet. But they need sunlight!

Hann’s Vanishing Seascape, 2024, an acrylic on canvas work, 48 x 36 inches, is more impressionistically painted than some of the other works in this show. Her dabs of paint, whether larger like here or smaller in other works, and the addition of multimedia elements from her own hair to beads to jewels show a mastery of color and texture. Hann has made her final subject matter one thing: capturing the power of coral. “The theme of my work is ‘coexistence,’” she said. She has made coral reefs her obsession because of the “potential of life and death... emphasizing the interconnectedness between humans, and the natural world.”


Regina Hann, Let Me Live, 2022, Mixed media, 72 x 36 inches. Photo by Chun Park. Courtesy of Riverside Gallery.

Rainbow Coral Garden, 2024, is an oil on canvas that reads like like an underwater flower garden. Mutualism, 2024 does too but quite differently. A swirling shape blends together greens, blues and salmon colors aided by various textures and raised surfaces. The artist demonstrates her mastery of brush work in addition to an eye for detail in her use of tiny multi-media materials that supplement the paint in traditional colors but that appear to be day-glo hues. They are not.

“Coral boasts more diversity than any other animal species on Earth. It provides food and habitat for marine life, protects us from natural disasters like tsunamis, and offers essential ecosystem services, including ingredients for various medicines, including cancer treatments.”

Her work Vanish Together? (2024) is a full-fledged landscape under the sea with the top half showing the surface from below. The bottom half of the painting shows familiar white coral shapes that look beautiful and even familiar but presumably these are bleached and therefore damaged. The question mark in her title ponders if humans and our animal coral counterparts are destined to exit Planet Earth together. “Coral reefs are increasingly bleaching and dying due to environmental pollution,” Hann said, adding “No entity can survive alone; we are all interconnected.”

Detail, Regina Hann:“Coexistence” at Riverside Gallery. Photography by Mark Bloch.

Natural processes such as storms can damage the reefs but human activities like oil spills and pollutants including sewage and agricultural fertilizers threaten them more by increasing the algae that smothers coral. Even too much plain sediment clouds the waters and blocks necessary light. The reefs must then expel the algae via coral bleaching which turns their beautiful colors white. Increased ocean temperatures, due to global warming, can also cause the bleaching.

What can save them? New detailed mapping, and monitoring techniques to study their growth under different conditions such as water quality and circulation as well as the effects of fishing, and sedimentary processes will help. By increasing awareness of coral reefs, Hann considers herself part of the solution.

Let Me Live, 2022 is a line up of about 25 different coral flowers, an image that is recreated in a nearby print series. Another work that is also reproduced as a print edition is Ocean's Lament, 2024, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 72 × 48 inches, one of the most recent works in the show. Its sharp shadows, vibrant hues and beautiful, non-representational almost Abstract Expressionist white spray are suggestive of a disorienting underwater version of Monet’s Water Lillies.


Regina Hann, Reproduction I, 2023, Mixed media, 45 x 36 inches. Courtesy of Riverside Gallery.

Finally, Reproduction I 2023 is a wild tangle swirl of elongated shapes like stars in the sky —whites, yellows, turquoise and blue. Apparently individual colonies of coral can grow in two ways: asexually by reproducing polyps or sexually by spawning gametes overnight at the full moon in which an entire reef will decide to do this simultaneously as they have in this image. Fertilized eggs grow into new colonies this way. “I became curious about how the expressive characteristics of coral align with what I pursue,” she said. She explained she is interested in the survival of the planet and not, “precarious illusions of wealth and fame.”

Regina Hann was born and raised near the sea in Busan, a port city and the second capital of South Korea and currently resides in New Jersey. She obtained her Bachelor's degree in Fine Art from Silla University, also in Busan, in 1984. She gained media attention in Korea as the world's first designer to create wedding dresses with hand embroidery using mother-of-pearl. She studied painting at The Art Students League of New York from 2018 to 2020. WM

Mark Bloch

Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at bloch.mark@gmail.com and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.



view all articles from this author