Life and art of late Lee In-sung
By Kwon Mee-yoo
An exhibition sheds new light on the art and life of the late Lee In-sung (1912-1950), a painter who sought native hues. The National Museum of Art at Deoksu Palace hosts an exhibition that looks into the artistic world of Lee through Aug. 26.
“The Centennial Celebration of Lee In-sung’s Birth” highlights the short life of the artist from the beginning to his last days. It features some 75 artworks and 200 archives of his.
Often dubbed the “Paul Gaugin of Korea,” Lee is well-known for his bold, indigenous use of color. “On an Autumn Day” (1934), in which a topless woman stands in front of exotic plants such as sunflowers, reminds one of Gaugin’s paintings depicting pristine nature. However, the exhibit gives a more comprehensive look at the artist, covering everything from pastoral sceneries to portraits.
Instead of Lee’s intense, colorful paintings, a series of black and white photographs greet viewers. The exhibition continues to a timeline of his life.
Based in Daegu, Lee introduced Western painting to the art scene of the southeastern city. He was accepted to a national art exhibition when he was 18, marking himself as a “genius painter” of the time. However, participating in government-led shows under Japanese colonial rule later fuelled arguments over him being pro-Japanese.
He sought “local color” throughout his short life. For him, locality would refer to his hometown Daegu and the nature of Korea, both geographically and artistically. Though he studied in Japan and was influenced by Western art, Lee pursued the color and symbolism of the Joseon era.
Pieces such as “Room in Summer” (1934) and “At the Window” (late 1930s) portray bourgeois life in modern-day Korea through intermittent touch and bright colors.
He used watercolors on paper and oil colors on canvas and wood. His distinct use of different materials also gives unique texture and color to his works.
Later, he moved to Seoul and worked as an art teacher. His later works are mostly portraits, including several self-portraits.
Lee’s life ended unexpectedly when he was shot by a police officer accidentally after heading home drunk during curfew. He was only 39.
The museum also shows Lee’s daily life through a variety of photos, news articles and collections. There is a collection of postcards collected by Lee when he was in Japan and viewers can speculate what influenced his works.
Though there is controversy over Lee’s genius or pro-Japanese activities, this exhibit provides an opportunity to look into the life and works of an artist who lived fiercely in the modern times and his pastoral paintings.
Meanwhile, the upper exhibition halls of the museum have been renovated and hold “Modern Masterpieces from the Museum Collection: Poetry and Dreams,” running through Dec. 2.
Following the renovation, natural light pours into the gallery filled with Korean modern art. The exhibit covers early 20th century Korean art from An Choong-sik and Ko Hui-dong to Park Soo-keun and Kim Whan-ki.
Both exhibitions are free. Visit www.moca.go.kr/engN (English) or call (02) 2188-6114.