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Don Ahn was born in Seoul, Korea. He studied at Seoul University (BFA), graduate student at Miami University, Oxford Ohio 1962, Pratt Institute (MFA), and New York University (Ph. D, Art History). He was also a student of the T'ai Chi grandmaster Cheng Man-ch'ing in New York City.
Career as artist
Themes and influences
Ahn's work is greatly influenced by nature, specifically the cycles of nature as in Zen and other Eastern philosophies. Ascribing to the Eastern belief that nature is central to everything that exists, Ahn paints natural forms and environments, which he abstracts into brushstrokes, drips, and splatters. Titles of his paintings reference trees, wind, and water, and include Broken Branch in the Rain, Old Zen Tree, and Wind, Rain, & Ocean. His swirls and drips portray the rapid, random, and untamed effects of natural forces.
Another influence or concept in Ahn's work is the dragon, a good and powerful figure from Korean and Chinese mythology, whose movements and forms Ahn suggests in whimsical ribbon-like marks and trails of paint. In Korean folk tales, dragons show goodwill to humans by sending clouds and rain, and they tend to live in lakes, rivers, and oceans. Paying tribute to this Folkloric legacy, Ahn's paintings bear titles such as Brown Dragon and Yellow Dragon, as well as titles using names of underwater creatures and habitats, like Phantasy in the Deep Sea.
Style and technique
Ahn's ink and acrylic paintings on canvas are reminiscent of Zen Calligraphy and paintings, with their quick brushstrokes and elegant compositions. Composed of swipes and spatters that course across the pictorial field, these works blend Eastern brush painting with Abstract Expressionist "action painting." In his catalog essay, Jeffrey Wechsler remarks at "how completely even the most explosive of (the marks) ultimately resolve within the paintings as compositional pivots and Focal points of visual weight, but without reducing their sense of unbound energy" which he calls a "zen-like paradox." He writes, "Somehow, speed becomes the medium for suggesting presence and substance."
The white paper background accounts for a large percentage of the surfaces of Ahn's works, but to Ahn, these areas are not characteristic of Western "negative space." Instead, as in Eastern Philosophy, empty space or the void is full of Tao (the fullness of existence) and ch'i (the energy within it).
Ahn has had numerous solo and group exhibitions in the U.S. and abroad, including the solo shows Dragons & Oceans at Ehwa Gallery, Seoul, South Korea in 2007, and Zen & Void at Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY in 2004. His work is in private and public collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Dayton Art Museum, Ohio, and the Evansville Museum, Indiana. Awards and honors include First Prize (in painting) from the Dayton Art Museum Ohio Regional Art Annual in 1963, the Pratt Graduate Fellowship in 1963, First Prize (in etching) from East Coast Printmaker's Annual in 1964, and the McDowell Artist Fellowship in 1964.
Selected solo exhibitions
- 2014 Don Ahn: Spirit, BBCN Bank, New York, NY
- 2014 Don Ahn (1937-2013), Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 2012 Paintings From 1968 Through 2005, Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 2007 Dragons & Oceans, Ehwa Gallery, Seoul, South Korea
- 2004 Zen & Vold, Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 2000 Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 1996 Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 1994 Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 1993 Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 1982 Hankuk Gallery, New York, NY
- 1977 Lotus Gallery, New York, NY
- 1976 Lotus Gallery, New York, NY
- 1975 Lotus Gallery, New York, NY
- 1972 Green Mountain Gallery, New York, NY
- 1972 Westbeth Gallery, New York, NY
- 1971 Westbeth Gallery, New York, NY
- 1971 Dalhousie Gallery, Nova Scotia, Canada
- 1969 Downey Museum, Los Angeles, CA 1965 Evansville Museum, Evansville, IN
- 1963 Dayton Art Museum, Dayton, OH
- 1952 Kilbride Bradley Gallery, Minneapolis, MN
- 1950 Korean Do-Su-Kwan Gallery, Seoul, South Korea
Selected group exhibitions
- 2013 Coloring Time, Korean Cultural Service, New York, NY
- 2013 Friends, Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 2011 Friends, Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 2011 Art Toronto, Toronto, Canada
- 2011 Art Chicago, Chicago, IL
- 2010 Art Toronto, Toronto, Canada
- 2008 Gallery Artists Part V, Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 2002 Eastern Essence, Gary Snyder Gallery, New York, NY
- 2002 500 Best Works On Paper, Gary Snyder Gallery, New York, NY
- 2001 Abstract Expressionism, Gary Snyder Gallery, New York, NY
- 1999 Pleides Gallery, Seoul University Alumni show, New York, NY
- 1999 Korean New York Art Society Show, Jersey City, NJ
- 1999 Fukuoka Asian Art Museum Fukuoka, Japan
- 1999 Artist of the Third Millennium, Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 1998 Kaohsiung Museum Of Fine Arts, Taipei, Taiwan
- 1997 Chicago Institute Of Art, Chicago, IL
- 1997 Zimmerli Museum, Rutgers University
- 1997 Asian Tradition & Modern Expression: 1945 - 1970, Zimmerli Museum, Rutgers University
- 1995 Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 1993 Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, NY
- 1976 Lotus Gallery, New York
- 1972 Westbeth Gallery, New York, NY
- 1971 US National Print Biennial, Museum Of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan
- 1969 Cooper Union, faculty show, New York, NY
- 1968 6th Invitational International Print Biennial, Museum Of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan
- 1967 International Print Biennial, Grenchen, Switzerland
- 1967 Audubon, National Annual, New York, NY
- 1966 Society of American Graphic Artists, National Annual, New York, NY
- 1966 Ball State College, National, Drawing and Sculpture, Muncie, IN
- 1966 Traveling U.S. Print Show, Pratt Graphic Arts Center, New York, NY
- 1965 Traveling U.S. Print Show, Pratt Graphic Arts Center, New York, NY
- 1964 New York, Institute of Technology, faculty show New York, NY
- 1964 Evansville Museum, Indiana
- 1964 East Coast Printmakers, Village Art Center, New York, NY
- 1963 Ohio Regional Art Show, Dayton Art Institute, OH
- 1963 Drawing and Prints from the collection of J.Johnson, Cincinnati Museum of Art, OH
- 1962 Seattle Worlds Fair, Korean Booth, Seattle, WA
- 1958 Korean National Art Annual (Kuk-Jun), Seoul, South Korea
- 1954 Korean National Art Annual (Kuk-Jun), Seoul, South Korea
Awards and honors
- 1964 First Prize (in Etching), East Coast Printmakers Annual
- 1964 McDowell Artist Fellowship, NH
- 1963 First Prize (In Painting), Dayton Art Museum, Ohio Regional Art Annual, Juror: Howard Arnason, Vice President, Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY
- 1963 Pratt Graduate Fellowship, New York, NY
Selected public and private collections
- Museum Of Modern Art, New York, NY
- Dayton Art Museum, Dayton, OH
- Evansville, Museum, Evansville, IN
- C.W. Post College, Brookville, NY
- Farrington Collection, Calgary, Canada
- Campbell Collection, Cold Spring, NY
- Collection D.J. Nam, Seoul, South Korea
- Collection of Thomas W. Thompson, Dayton, OH
Career as t'ai chi master
Master Ahn studied with the late Professor Cheng, Man Ching (6 years from 1964), followed by study with Yang, Sui Chong (the eldest son of Yang, Cheng Fu) in 1970 Hong Kong. He teaches several Taoist disciplines: he has trained in Korean Tae Kwondo (1949-1953), Korean Zen (1955-1959), and has practiced other Taoist disciplines for over 30 years.
Master Ahn learned acupressure techniques in his childhood from his grandfather, and studied Korean and Japanese Shiatsu intermittently from 1953, as well as various Western forms of body work since 1960. Ahn's Chi Bodywork is the result of this harmonizing of both the Eastern and Western methods.
He was known for his focus on Dantian and Rooting power, and taught Professor Cheng's 37-form, as well as Push Hands, Sword, Knife, Double Knife, Da Lu, Wu Chi Breathing, and Taoist meditation. 
- "Don Ahn (1937-2013) | Artsy".
- Don Ahn at the Japanese American National Museum
- Review in The New York Times
- "Ahn Tai Chi Studio". Archived from the original on October 17, 2007. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
- "Don Ahn Obituary". Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- "Archival Footage of Don Ahn pushing hands with Professor Cheng, Man Ch'ing". Retrieved February 22, 2017.
- Cotter, Holland, "Of Asians Among the Abstractionists",The New York Times 2007
- Wechsler, Jeffrey,Asian Traditions, Modern Expressions 1945-1970, New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, 1997.
- Community Leaders of America, 1981
- Notable Americans, 1981
- Who's who in the East, 1981