Mike Han | How a Pandemic Turned a Sushi Chef Into a Prominent Emerging Artist

Sometimes, life brings us to our knees in order to also bring us back to our essence. It leaves nothing left to do other than listen for and follow the voice that says there’s something inside you that is so true, so visceral and real, that it must get out, and there is no longer any way to avoid it. It’s time. Question is, what happens when we honor that voice? Do things magically get easier? Come roaring back to life? Does the Universe truly support in the way we so often hear? Or does it continue to walk away? There’s only one way to know, and that’s to heed the call.

And that is exactly what my guest today, Mike Han, has done. Mike loved art as a kid, even began studying it, but didn’t see a way to make a living at it, so he buried the impulse and got an entry-level job in a sushi restaurant. Over the years, he became a deeply-skilled and sought-after omakase sushi chef, rising up in that world, and was just about to open his own place, when the pandemic hit. Literally overnight, he found himself without work, without a vision, without enough money to pay his rent and, to a certain extent, out of hope. But, he still had one thing, his artistic impulse, and it began calling him louder than ever. Not as a sushi chef, but as the visual artist that’d been inside him since childhood. 

The chain of events that unfolded over the next two years, frankly, is hard to explain in any rational sense. He said yes to the call and the Universe did, in fact, rise up to support him, time and time again, in the most astonishing ways. Mike has now made massive waves as a rising artist who proudly reps Detroit as his home, with large-scale collaborations with global brands like LinkedIn, vitaminwater, and Google, public art projects, and private commissions. 

Informed by his time as a sushi chef, Mike’s visual art has become a deeply-reverent practice based on the understanding that in order to create, you must destroy, and his story so far is a testament to that. His graffiti-inspired artwork is an exploration of his Korean heritage, sustainability, and human connectedness, and through his work, whether sushi or art, Mike strives to achieve something we’re all after, balance, by connecting people, places, and ideas. His work has been featured on BBC World News, designboom, Cool Hunting, Architectural Digest, Apartment Therapy, Detroit Free Press, and on the cover of SEEN Magazine. Mike is also an ArtPrize Equity Grant award winner, and his work is featured in the permanent collection of Huntington Bank, Mercedes Benz Financial Services, Henry Ford Health Systems, Shinola Hotel, and Daxton Hotel.

In our conversation, we talk about Mike’s journey up until this moment and explore the ways art has shaped his own life and even saved him at times. We also dive into his unique process as an artist, and he offers his own interpretations of what art can look like and mean to us all. 

You can find Mike at: Website | Instagram

If you LOVED this episode:

  • You’ll also love the conversations we had with Peter Tunney about his journey from finance to art.

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photo credit: [peasant life]

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