Book Rediscovers Ink Painting Master
Unlike Western painting, a traditional ink painting called ``sumuk,'' simply relies on the use of light and the shade of the ink, rather than technique and material, to determine its characteristic. Yet, sumuk captures the spirit, cultural complexity and charm of the integrity of nature.
The ink painting is sometimes regarded as a method of meditation, as its brush strokes express the human spirit and psychological feelings.
However, is it valid today when Westernization absorbs everything from industry to the art scene?
The recently published ``From the Shadows of Clothes to the Breath Behind the Shadows'' rediscovers the beauty of the traditional ink paintings from the modern perspective.
The book focuses on Kim Ho-seok, the Korean ink-painting master, who succeeds the traditional ink painting with a modern approach. He touches upon social issues and history through the traditional ink painting works.
The book is an on-the-spot report of the painter's four big exhibitions in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2006.
Although the author is not an expert in the arts, his accounts on the painter and his masterpieces are so vivid and intriguing that it will attract ordinary readers to become deeply interested in almost forgotten ink paintings these days.
The book says that his works deal with dreams, frustration and anger behind the industrializing society and trace down to the unscathed spiritual world, thereby succeeding the tradition of Korean sumuk, particularly from the late Joseon period.
His astounding landmark work, ``Hwaoem of the Day'' (1995-98) is reminiscent of Joseon painter Kim Hong-do's ``March to Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon.''
``Hwaoem of The Day'' ― 1.6 meters in width and 3.65 meters in height ― is ``the grandiose historic record, the religious painting and also representative as the Korean painting and the modern painting,'' the author says. The book describes this work as ``the great masses composing on the single screen.''
Kim has protested against the established art scene dominated by Western arts through provocative works based on modern realism. Yet at the same time, he adhered to the Korean traditions.
``What we call Korean paintings today are not pure originals; they adopt Western arts, and mix other countries' characteristics. Only vague vestiges of the traditions have been transmitted to our descendants,'' the author says.
The book asserts that Kim's paintings are more important than others in that he continuously recovers the late Joseon period's painting techniques to the present day, bringing it to a new level.
He revives traditional techniques such as ``baechae,'' a technique of painting colors from the back of the canvas in portraits, and ``bugam,'' a technique of painting the landscape from a bird's eye view, which was mostly found in Joseon's works.
His brushworks resemble the Joseon portraits, which were the most realistic and delicate throughout the Korean history.
Joseon portraits have a photo-like accurate expression, depicting the texture of the skin, beards, and even the personality of the models, although most of the subjects are noblemen. But unfortunately, the Joseon portrait techniques didn't continue into the modern era.
These skills, which ceased to exist for a long time, suddenly appeared through Kim's works, or were better succeeded through the modern realism, the book says.
He exactly revives `jeonsinsajo'' which means ``revealing the spirits behind the subjects, or painting invisible interior state through the visible portrayals with traditional techniques,'' the author says.
Kim succeeded to the legendary portrait techniques through modern subjects broadening the models to all walks of life with unique characteristics.
``Dosan Ahn Chang-ho'' (1988) is a portrait with a modern touch with rough brush strokes describing the beards and vivid and elaborate portrayals of the independence fighter's eyes revealing the pathos behind them.
A portrait of ``Rev. Moon Ik-hwan'' (1995) is softer with its lines portraying both his tenderness and strong integrity.
The book reveals his masterpiece of ``Mukseon'' (1995), which reaches the highest level of brushwork. The painting exudes a mystic aura using empty spaces but full of spiritual nature.
The author calls the painter a ``poet on the Joseon canvas,'' who with his spiritual depictions could capture a little tiny living creature but also historical events in a grand narrative.
The author recounts the traditional ink painting master as a distinguished artist who can be seen as today's Kim Hong-do.