September 28, 2021  •  By Christine Pasalo Norland

Mary Jhun's Obsession 

Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla, California, hosted a solo show by Filipina American surrealist Mary Jhun in October 2021. Titled “An Obsession,” the exhibition explored Jhun's relationship with the figures that recur in her murals, paintings, illustrations and other works, figures she calls The Girls.

“To see the power of The Girls that I’ve created while the world was quiet–they spoke up louder, to dedicate more time to them,” said Jhun during a conversation we had this past July for a profile in San Diego Magazine.

Born on September 30, 1989, in Cavite, Philippines, Jhun immigrated to Southern California with her family at the age of six, eventually growing up in Paradise Hills, a neighborhood of San Diego, California. The Girls first appeared in her work when she was a teen, and began as more realistic profiles. Over time, details were replaced by impressions that begin with a forehead line and subconsciously flows into objects, places, or nature. 

"Art wasn’t necessarily a shock to my family because I have grandparents that were painters," said Jhun during our July conversation. "They weren’t against me doing art, but there were restrictions like 'Why would you do that? Does it make money?' because we were living in a time in the world where Filipino artists weren’t seen. They didn’t get this idea that it was okay to do."

Over the past seven years, Jhun balanced painting with working at Cafe Virtuoso, an independent cafe and retailer of organic coffee and tea in Barrio Logan, San Diego. Then, the pandemic hit. Work hours were reduced as the hospitality industry figured out how to stay solvent while keeping business partners, employees, and customers safe. It was during those off-hours and the daily reminder of the fragility of life that Jhun started planning to live as she's always wanted if she was fortunate to have the chance: By art alone.

"I was feeling like the world was telling me to do it," said Jhun. “If I did art, I knew I was present. If I did art, I lived today.”

With the support of Cafe Virtuoso's founder and owner Laurie Britton, Jhun kept reduced hours at the cafe to spend more time building her art business in Barrio Logan's Art Hub, a building and art community that hosts more than 20 art and retail spaces. Jhun's studio does double duty as her art-making sanctuary and as a retail shop where she sells original pieces, prints, and merchandise featuring her work. Her goal was to move on from the cafe completely by January 2022 and sustain a livelihood entirely on her art.

"It’s scary, but not in a 'bad' scared," said Jhun. "I’m extremely excited."

The opening reception of “An Obsession” by Mary Jhun took place at Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla, California, on Saturday, October 9, 2021. The series was on exhibit through October 2021. For information on COVID-19 precautions, please contact Thumbprint Gallery.

For more about Mary Jhun, visit and read her profile in San Diego Magazine (titled “Ebb and Flow" in the September 2021 print issue.) 

This article was updated to reflect current event information.


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