The Land and the People
Contemporary Korean Prints
An Jeong Min
Chung Sang Gon
Jung Won Chul
Kim Joon Kwon
Lee Sang Guk
Lee Yun Yop
Ryu Yeun Bok
Suh Sang Hwan
Yoon Yeo Geul
The ten artists selected for this exhibition suggest the diversity and scale of contemporary printmaking in South Korea. Spanning three generations and encompassing techniques ranging from traditional woodcut, to linocut, experimental silicon casting, and digital processes, the artists’ unique visions combine to reveal the distinctive characteristics of Korean printmaking.
Kim Eok andRyu Yeun Bok address the landscape from a historical perspective. Kim travels throughout Korea to document landscapes of national significance. At first glance, his scroll-like prints seem to adhere to the vocabulary of traditional landscapes. Gradually, however, signs of contemporary life emerge. The bird’s eye view of highways, cars, and power plants, and the specificity of the terrain, all seem to acknowledge satellite imaging. Ryu’s printsdepict a landscape at the center of political controversy. His series of twelve prints portrays Gumgang Mountain, the only location in North Korea that is open to South Koreans. Rather than documenting the terrain, his expressive forms convey the symbolic power residing in the place. Both Kim and Ryu create prints in which past and present conjugations coalesce in landscapes that transcend time.
An Jeong Min and Lee Sang Guk capture personal experience of the natural environment through the gestural immediacy of their cutting. Lee’s knife creates a loose rhythm of jagged shapes that contain both figurative and natural references. As a result each print is an animated entanglement of figures and landscape. There is an uncanny transformation in the way An’s rough cutting visualizes flowing, splashing water. An’s innovative method of silicon casting opens new possibilities for large scale work and adds expressive power to her vision.
Contrary to An’s aggressive cutting, Yoon Yeo Geul creates an intricate linear web to suggest the intensity of Seoul’s urban environment. His hyperactive lines coalesce to reveal buildings and figures that seem to exist only in the moment. In contrast to the effervescence of Yoon’s urban experience, Kim Joon Kwon’s landscapes offer stillness. Kwon uses water-based ink to build up multiple layers of soft, transparent forms that appear weightless and float before the viewer as loci for contemplation.
While their content differs, Lee Yun Yop and Suh Sang Hwan share a faith in the centrality of art in life. Suh Sang Hwan addresses the inner life and speaks of his woodcuts as a form of prayer. Mirroring Korean culture, his pictographic and mandala-like images freely combine Buddhist, Confucian, Zen, and Christian imagery. He purposefully over-inks his prints to give them a primitive character suggesting the sources of our spiritual life. Lee Yun Yop lives and works with activists at the sites of demonstrations defending labor rights and resisting government development. For each demonstration he creates prints to support and promote awareness of the issues. While prints offer him the advantages of economy and speed, woodcut’s long cultural heritage provides a graphic authority that cuts through a media saturated environment.
The prints of Chung Sang Gon and Jung Won Chul address significant historical issues while focusing on individuals caught in events. Chung’s digital print, Three People – Exodus, portrays a North Korean family crossing the Duman river to South Korea. He captured the original photo from a newspaper and divided it so that each figure appears on a separate panel. He then enhanced the ambiguity of the image to encourage a universal interpretation of exodus as it relates to our individual life journeys. The stark realism of Jung’s linocuts portrays surviving “Comfort Women”; women forced to service soldiers during the Japanese invasion of Asia. The rich textures of his technique transform the women’s physiognomy into a topography of experience. But it is the light, sparkling through the textures, that imbues the women with a numinosity that exceeds mere portraiture.
Through the work of these artists we hope viewers have the opportunity to enjoy the distinctive character of Korean prints and the culture they reveal. It is no coincidence that woodcut is the dominant medium. Many of the artists were trained in sumi painting, and sumi painting, like woodcut, requires a directness of gesture that does not accommodate corrections. The artists’ familiarity with the graphic power of large, gestural brush strokes, also influences the scale of their prints.The largest influence however, is the long history of Korean wood block printing and its use for administrative, political, literary, and religious texts starting in the early 6th century. The significance of this traditionis evidenced by UNESCO’s designation of the Haeinsa Temple, and its collection of over 81,000 wood blocks from the 13th century, as a world heritage treasure. The collection comprises the oldest and most complete surviving Buddhist texts.
The curators would like to thank all those who have helped us to realize this exhibition. Phil Hitchcock, University Library Director, and Leslie Rivers, Assistant to the Director, have been encouraging and supportive at every stage of the project since its inception over two years ago. Pat Chirapravati, Director, Asian Studies, is always a generous source of advice and has been instrumental in coordinating activities relating to the exhibition. The teaching, artistic practice, and scholarship of our colleagues in the Art Department and the College of Arts & Letters provide a rich and inspiring context for this project. And finally, we would like to thank all of the artists who have generously lent work to the exhibition.
The exhibition has been curated by Kim Jin Ha, art critic and Director, Namu Art, Seoul, South Korea; Koo Kyung Sook, Professor of Art Emeritus, Chungnam National University, South Korea; and Ian Harvey, Associate Professor, California State University, Sacramento.
Lee Yun Yop: Goorumbi Wins, 2012, woodcut, 25 x 17 inches
An Jeong Min, Chamsungdan – Our Navel, 2000, woodcut, 100 x 51 inches
Yoon Yeo Geul, Sinchon 5:22 pm, 2009, woodcut, 48 x 32 inches
Ryu Yeun Bok, Biryong Falls, Bongrae Mountains, 2007, woodcut, 24 x 12 inches
Jung Won Chul, The Testimony No. 1, 2001, linocut, 32 x 24 inches
Suh Sang Hwan, Memory, 1993, woodcut, 19 x 15 inches