Wistful stories of homeland on canvas
By Noh Hyun-gi
Of late, the local art scene, exhibitions and auctions alike, is saturated with abstract works. “Contemporary Representational Paintings” at Gallery Hyundai in Jongno, Seoul offers a break with creations that reflect our national tragedy ― the Korean War (1950-1953).
All three artists ¬Park Seung-hwan, Kim Sang-yoo, and Hwang Yong-yup- featured in the exhibition were born in North Korea and fled to the South during the war. Their pieces capture the inner struggles of the generation born in the 1920s and 30s and the nostalgia for the once peaceful peninsula.
The gallery’s second level which displays a dozen large-size paintings by Hwang strikes the viewer in scale and unsettling consistency. He is the only surviving artist of the three, and he dissects the canvas with countless lines stemming from alien-like figures that are all his paintings. All titled a type of story ― “My Story,” “An Old Story” ― the works appear like sheets of shattered glass, heavily layered with thumb-sized brush strokes. The painter dropped out of Pyongyang Arts College (present day Pyongyang University of Music and Dance) and escaped the totalitarian regime to pursue uncensored art. Hwang’s daring pursuit for freedom is depicted in the distorted bodies against an orange and gray background. In 1988, the Pyongyang native became the first recipient of the Lee Joong-sup Award, annual recognition given in honor of the master known for his paintings of bulls. He also represented Korea at the Beijing International Art Biennale in 2003.
Meanwhile Park’s five paintings on display are best appreciated from a couple meters away; they look like snapshots of pleasant dreams. The creations render the longing for the rustic scenery of Korea that was splattered with the outbreak of the war. He painted livestock, women with water buckets on their heads, and village festivals. The artist who trained in Japan mixes his colors on the canvas, revealing the underlying hues and creating a hazy finish. Known for his mastery of white, Park favors a mystical palette of pink, turquoise, and lemon. He also did not use any black paint. Often paired with Park So-keun in the similarity of subject matter, he served as the judge of the Korean Fine Arts Association’s annual exhibition, the rite of passage for local painters, in 1977 and 1978.
Rounding out the three painters in the exhibit, Kim drew his desire for inner piece in his simple and light-colored pieces. The printer-turned-painter depicts one man meditating in pavilions. Foregoing any representation of depth, the oil works appear like airy water-color works. The architecture of the wooden structures divides the green-dominated space geometrically. Born in South Pyeongan Province in 1926, Kim was a pioneer of printmaking in Korea and represented the nation in various international art shows including the Sao Paulo Biennale in 1971. A drop-out of the philosophy department at Yonsei University, the artist lectured briefly at Duksung Women’s University. He passed away in 2002.
The exhibition runs through April 22. For more information, call (02) 2287-3500 or visit www.galleryhyundai.com.