KeyHan and the Unpredictable Mashup of Life and Art

By Jenny Cutler Lopez on October 19, 2016
keyhan, keyhan lee, dc, virginia, artist, collage, arlington, visual artist
KeyHan. Image credit: Jan Hanus

For artists like KeyHan, 40, life is a balancing act. At times the unexpected grit of life obfuscated his pursuit of visual creation and at other times, life has enhanced his artistic journey. Although KeyHan has been an artist most of his life, it wasn’t until he was 35 that he began to show his work publicly. It has only been two months since he leaped into the role as full-time working artist.

Life as an army brat meant KeyHan made friends and picked up interests from all around the world. In South Korea, he practiced illustration creating a series of Garbage Pail Kid-like playing cards mimicking his classmates. In Fort Hood, Texas, he discovered punk music—a genre and philosophy which still influences his art 27 years later.  By college, at Prince George County Community College, KeyHan was learning sculpture, drawing, painting, and design for which he won various student awards. Life as a budding artist stopped abruptly at 22 years old when he and his girlfriend discovered they had a baby on the way. KeyHan dropped out of college and learned graphic design on the job in Clinton, MD.

Now at 40, he has finally made his way back to full-time visual art projects he describes as “a varied pattern. I typically use digitally manipulated laser printed paper as transfers or as collage paste-ups using Mod Podge.  As far as paints; I typically use acrylics, house paint, spray paint (especially gold), coffee.” He recently rediscovered Julian Schnabel and “was reminded how diverse his work was and I thought how cool it is to have diversity in my work (and) not get bummed about a lack of consistency,” says KeyHan.

KeyHan’s diverse interests include a fascination with Renaissance art which derives from an appreciation for the “timelessness and beauty of the period.” But, he also uses the Renaissance to reference the upper class. His latest pieces mashup local DC punk posters with 17th century artwork “to express themes of overindulgence and materialism of the 1 percenters,” says KeyHan.

His latest exhibit at the newly opened Steadfast Supply at the southeast DC waterfront consists of ten 12 x 12 pieces and one larger tableau. Steadfast Supply will showcase local artists like KeyHan until December.

keyhan, keyhan lee, dc, virginia, artist, collage, arlington, visual artist
“Ready Made #2” Mixed Media; Spray Paint, Bubblegum and Faux Diamonds on Found Ceramic Art. Courtesy of the artist

How do you deal with harsh criticism? Have you ever had a surprising comment? Where?

I prefer hearing the truth as opposed to someone trying to kiss your ass or something, placating you. I’d actually love for someone to come up and tell me how shitty my art is and then buy it all..

Do you have any rituals?

I usually take a bubble baths in the morning (to) help me relax and think.


What are you thinking about in the studio?

How messy it is and how I wished it wasn’t in my living room.

How do you know when you’re done? 

When I have time, I usually hang or display my work round the house. Then I might add or subtract depending on how I feel.

Quick. First three favorite artists that come to mind?

Basquiat, Gerhard Richter, and Robert Rauschenberg

Your greatest success and worst failure? 

My greatest success as far as selling work would have to be the Lego themed show, Art of the Brick at The Fridge last year. I sold all my pieces. My worst failure happened too recently and would rather not put that out there at the moment.

keyhan, keyhan lee, dc, virginia, artist, collage, arlington, visual artist
“Untitled #1”
Mixed Media; House Paint, Gold Spray Paint, And Digital Composite Transfer On Wood Panel. Image courtesy of the artist.

Have you ever regretted selling a piece and why?

Not at all. Well there was a piece that was purchased at a Cuba skate silent auction that (had a) starting price as the other decks. My piece was a diptych comprised of two decks and so should have been twice the price to start. Must have been miscommunicated.

Check out more about KeyHan at and on Instagram @keyhansolo