The most Korean breath gained from deep insight. ‘The reason he is beautiful’.
A working space in Gyeongju, the ancient city of Silla, Korea.
In the studio, which gave birth to many of his works of art, the looks of the female shaman in his works are cool. Barigongju (the main character in the Bari myth in which she plays the bridge between man and God and is a relayer who releases the dead and guides them over to the afterworld) and sipjangsaeng(the ten commandments) were in full bloom. The times that past had also been with them. There was not a trace of movement in his world where he perceives himself correctly. Maintaining his Korean pride, he expresses his curiosity about God and man and questions about the four phases of life. In his paintings with colors that remind us of dancheong, the Korean han and sorrow coexists and blends with the present and after life. And cherishing the history, cultural assets of Gyeongju, the numerous folktales, and the people in everyday life, he also sublimates it in his works. He worked, contemplated, drank, executed, and rejoiced in Gyeongju for nearly 40 years. He is a ‘master’ of art in which he experimented and attempted in various ways of horizontal logics rather than vertical logics. The world of works that only he himself can express is stronger than any artist and has distinct colors. We slowly went into his paintings and life.
- Working with loose nude and wonbanggak on the basis of sipjangsaeng.
The two modest roof-tiled house shaped in the Korean alphabet ‘ㄱ(giyeok)’ on the hill of Yool-ding, Gyeongju city is his house. He dismantled two old houses in Cheongha-myeong Pohang city and moved it to Gyeongju where he now has been living for 3 years. He is focusing on his works going back and forth to his work space in Hyeongok-myeong, Gyeongju city where he worked for more than 20 years.
“These days, I work mostly on sipjangsaeng and work also with the material of wonbanggak (it means ‘knowing heaven’s reasons and spreading it on the ground’, referring to cheonjiin) and loose nude. I am also planning to exhibit the work of moving the fable of 25 old Korean folk songs to painting with the students.” Having such interest in old Korean folk songs, he has exhibited works with it as material in the Gyeongju World Culture Expo. He is a world-renowned artist that held 63 individual exhibitions (New York 13 times, LA 4 times, Germany, Japan, China, etc) and is working as a professor of art at Dogguk University for 20 years.
- Curiosity on god and humans, went to many sites of exorcism to find wet eyes that cannot be seen elsewhere
“Shamanism which was the material for my work since the mid 1980s started from curiosity on god and humans and life and death. Especially, the love and hatred in a female shaman’s eyes which she shows through the communication with god at the site and her sight that seems to remain in the air is the ultimate sorrow that cannot be seen in any other model. I followed the wet eyes which could not be seen elsewhere and spoke with them and sketched them. That is how the ‘shaman practicing exorcism’ series was born.”
His world of works in which sipjangsaeng and barigongju appears is Korean and shamanist. Korean shamanistic myth. He has always presented works that encompass nature and humans from the original reality to the joys of nature. The screen which is packed with images of humans, plants, animals, the sun and moon reflects the vitality created by shamanistic rituals. On the other hand, Korean shamanism uses barigongju as a tone and surrealistically expresses the ‘tales of barigongju’ by flattening it on a huge screen.
- New York? New York!! Decided to go to New York and implemented diversity despite the surrounding dissuasion at the peak of popularity.
“I felt that it was now or never. From 1991 to 1994, I was invited to the State University of New York(Stony Brook) as a visiting professor and planned to stay there for 1 year. But then, I my perspective began to expand in painting itself. In my mid-30s, I painted the eyes of a shaman looking at something that cannot be seen in oil painting only. I followed them to sites of exorcism and drank with them as well. It was a time when I won several awards at the National Exhibition for painting the eyes of a shaman that was only visible when they met spirits. I went to New York in that situation and my eyes opened up to diversity after a year as I met underground, open studio artists more often.”
He thought that the only way he can change is to get rid of oil painting. He always thought ‘western painting is oil painting’. Right before he left for New York in 199, his exhibition was so popular that is was a huge success. He decided to move to New York when he hit the peak of popularity as an artist and the world of his work changed while he stayed there for 4 years.
In 1993, she drew a masterpiece of deep water with the Princess Bari series, the longest painting of which was a series of murals that unfolded the “Hwangcheonmuga,” which was 30 meters long. It is said to have been a complete wrapping and floor-to-floor operation for the New York Emerging Collector Gallery.
It was monotone work where the shape was made by scratching the nail on the surface of a paper with materials like clay, red soil and black soil or a canvas with acrylic paint. Once concentrated, it was a work so exhilarating that he would work for two to three days without a break, he recalled. The structure and idea changed from this work and the charm of oil painting was gradually forgotten. He begun to enjoy using hanji and muck and various color pigments often.
By the time he returned from his New York career, he had been struggling financially, but he was teaching students as an art professor at Dongguk University, and was said to have been inundated with request to open an exhibition.
He had more than 10 individual exhibitions in Hong Kong and New York alone. After coming back from the United States, he also organized the Wonhyo Art festival, Wolpo Sea Art festival, Factory Art festival (first attempt to use an empty factory area) based on his experience in New York. In the case of the Donghak Art festival, he organized it since 2002 for 14 years. He has received 80 donations from artists, including 20 portraits and archives of his own paintings. As he said, he dealt with the beginning and the end of donghak.
- The base of how he was able to continue his work amidst the changes in environment
“This too is because I do what I like to do. To me, paintings are life itself. After I came back from New York, I always visit artistically advanced areas during vacation. (Even if I am not in a good condition) Visiting Europe or New York and getting away from the stagnant environment of Gyeongju really enlightens me. It gets rid of the limitation of the complacent everyday life that I did not even realize. It acts as a vent. And it gives me a rather cumbersome and irritating time. And that’s the context having planned a number of art festivals.”
“Gyeongju is my hometown and the source of my paintings. These days, I’m working on less interaction with outsiders and focusing on my work.”
We are at a time where we have scarce communication through art. Nevertheless, he continues to carry out cultural achievements and discourse. Somewhere in the tradition, I could sympathize with the colorful scenery as he crosses the border and contemporary sides. He now has a more intense sense of Koreanness after having spent a long time in New York and he is constantly trying to figure out where he is headed. Hopefully, he will achieve a wonderful virtuous cycle in anticipation of his work, which will expand the landscape even more.
Writer Sun, Ae Kyung