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Korean Painting

Choson Period Paintings
Modern Painting

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Choson Period Paintings

The Essence of Choson Painting

The East differs from the West in that painting and calligraphy are joined together under the term sohwa. Among the many forms of traditional art, sohwa enjoys the highest status. Unfortunately, few ancient Korean paintings remain today. The decorative murals painted on the walls of palaces and temples have disappeared when the buildings burned down. So many early paintings on paper or silk were destroyed during frequent invasions and fires, that almost all extant works in Korea after the 16th century Hideyoshi invasions have disappeared. Paintings of the Three Kingdoms, such as the Koguryo tomb murals, give us only a partial understanding of the vibrant colors and lines of the period's art. Recently, some Buddhist paintings from the Koryo period, such as the famous ?ater-moon Avalokitesvara,' have provided a glimpse of the advanced level of the period's painting, but few pieces from this era remain. Thus, for an appreciation of Korean art, we must limit our focus to that of the Choson period.

Korean painting was strongly influenced by China over an extensive period of time, but this was not limited to a mere imitation of Chinese models. Korean artists chose elements according to their own aesthetic sense and used these to develop their own unique artistic tradition. Looking at Korean paintings up through the late Choson period, one easily gets the impression that Korean painting was identical to that of China. The artists often dress the figures in Chinese-style attire, sign the painting with the name of a famous Chinese artist and paint the fantastic, exaggerated landscapes characteristic of China. Yet on closer inspection, one can see much that is uniquely Korean.

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In the East, utopias do not exist in the future but in the past, and this tendency to idealize the past also finds its expression in art. Perhaps for this reason, East Asian art tends to imitate the art of the past. Yet, when East Asian artists model themselves on the great artists of the past, they do not simply copy old masterpieces. As is suggested in the interesting term p'ilui (mind of the brush), the artist, through his own hand, re-experiences the world of the old masters so as to make it his own.

During the late-Choson period, paintings of the Korean landscape became popular. In this period, the gentleman artist Chong Son (1676-1759) created a series of works that particularly stand out in the history of Korean painting. Even the works of the so-called Chinese style' which were painted both before and after his time have much that is unique in terms of composition and organization.

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Professional Artists and Dilettantes

In traditional Northeast Asian societies, professional painters, in Korea known as hwanjaeng-i, tended to be looked down upon, and Korea was no exception. During the Choson period, professional painters, as members of the chung-in class, were despised; yet this certainly does not mean that the paintings which they produced were scorned.

Government artists were selected according to a practical test of their skills. As part of the low chung-in class, they came under the jurisdiction of the Office of Painting, which in turn belonged to the office of rites. Their work included paintings solicited by the royal house, i.e. paintings of palace functions, portraits of the king, decorative paintings, pictures of meritorious subjects, portraits requested by the gentry and group paintings of the nobility. They would also be assigned to government kilns where they would paint figures on white-glaze porcelain, etc. When a Chinese or Japanese delegation came to Korea, government painters attended as part of the Choson entourage in order to record the event. Since government artists had to paint according to the taste and demands of their patrons, their works do not have the individuality and subjectivity that one finds in the paintings of the literati. Nevertheless, there were government artists of outstanding capability who created great masterpieces and achieved fame. Representative professional painters of this period include An Kyon, Yi Sang-jwa, Ch'oe Kyong, Kim Myong-kuk, Ch'oe Puk, Pyon Sang-byok, Kim Hong-do, Yi In-mun, Shin Yun-bok, Yu Suk and Chang Sung-op.

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The ruling class of traditional Korean society, from the king to the gentry, loved to paint in addition to merely admiring art. Their works are variously described as belonging to the "amateur school," "literati school," "gentleman's school" or "gentry school." These dilettante painters served both as patrons of the arts and critics. They had a great influence on the development of Korean painting and were always ahead of professional painters in forming new styles.

When compared with the work of government artists, paintings of the gentry school was inferior in terms of artistic expression and illustrative technique. On the other hand, since these painters were able to portray their own subjective visions of the world uninhibited by artistic conventions, their art had its own particular character. The gentry school also actively imported artistic styles from China, and thus played an important role in introducing them to the Korean art world at large. Unconcerned about portraying the external form of objects, the school's painters created spontaneous paintings that emphasized the mind of the painter. Representative artists of the Choson gentry school include Kang Hui-an, Yang P'aeng-son, Yi Am, Kim Shi, Yun EUi-rip, Yi Chong, Cho Sok, Yun Tu-so, Chong Son, Yi In-sang, Kang Se-hwang, Cho Yong-sok, Kim Chong-hui, Hong Se-sop and Min Yong-ik.

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Development of Choson-Era Painting

Looking at the content and artistic styles of Choson-era painting, one can divide the period into a former period of 300 years and a latter period of a little over 200 years, or following an An Hwi-jun, into four periods of 125 years.

If one follows the latter classification, the first period runs from the 15th century to the mid-16th century. With support from the King Sejong government's revival of the arts, painting seems to have flourished during this era; yet, due to the Hideyoshi invasions during the late 16th century, few works have survived. Extant paintings generally reflect the "academic style" from China's Northern and Southern Song Dynasties. Representative painters from this period include the literati painters Kang Hui-an (1417-1464) and the king's relative Yi Am (1499-1545), as well as the government artists An Kyon and Yi Sang-jwa.

The characteristic painting style of this era can be seen in the works of An Kyon-the greatest master of the early-Choson period. His work ?A Dream Visit to the Land of Peach Blossoms' or the work attributed to him known as ?Eight Scenes of the Four Seasons' both have a scattered yet harmonious composition, an exquisite sense of spacial expansiveness and majestic landscapes. Yi Am, on the other hand, created animal paintings full of dogs and cats, that had a lyrical, childlike quality.

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The second period, from the late 16th century to the late 17th century was politically unsettled as a result of foreign invasions and the "Four Factions Dispute." Nevertheless, a unique and creative artistic style developed during this time. In the paintings of this era, human figures appear large, and landscapes, serving primarily as the background for the figures, are portrayed with rough, thick strokes of ink which form a strong black and white contrast. Painting composition during this time is somewhat chaotic and animated. This period's style developed out of the Che school style of the Ming Dynasty, and its origins can be traced back to paintings such as Kang Hui-an's mid-15th century work Sage Contemplating the Water. Representative artists of the period include the literati painters Kim Shi (1524-1593), Yi Kyong-yun (1545-1611), Cho Sok (1595-1668) and the government artists Yi Hung-hyo (1537-1593), Yi Ching (1581-1674), Yi Chong (1578-1607) and Kim Myong-kuk (1600-1663). In particular, Yi Chong, EO Mong-yong and Hwang Chip-chung's ink drawings of bamboo, plums and grapes went on to become standard motifs in Korean painting.

The third period, which runs from the early-18th to the mid-19th century, is very important within the history of Choson painting, for it was during this time that both realistic landscape painting and genre painting (works based on everyday life) were introduced.

The Southern school style of the Ming Dynasty's Wu school, which developed during the 15th and 16th centuries, exerted a gradual influence on Korean painting up to this time. By the 18th century, Koreans had transformed this style into a new realistic style of landscape painting. Chong Son (1676-1759) in particular, loved to use Korea's bare granite peaks as subject matter. In his depictions of rocky pinnacles and mountains, he pioneered the technique of using repeated vertical lines. He thus established a unique artistic style that could be clearly distinguished from that of China. This realistic landscape style also influenced the works of literati painters such as Kim Yun-gyom (1711-1775), Kang Se-hwang (1713-1791) and Chong Su-yong (1743-1831), government artists such as Kim Hong-do (1745-1806) and Kim Sok-shin (1754-?), and the professional artist Ch'oe Puk (1712-1786). Other contemporary artists such as Shim Sa-jong (1707-1769), Yi In-sang (1710-1760) and Yi In-mun (1745-1824) gave the landscape style of China's southern school a uniquely Korean interpretation.

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In addition to the realistic landscape style, genre painting emerged as a style of stunning originally. Kim Hong-do, the artist extensively known for his genre paintings, was also adept at painting a wide range of motifs including Taoist and Buddhist figures as well as flower and bird motifs. He filled his canvases with warm scenes from the daily lives of the gentry, farmers, artisans and merchants. In his paintings, his precise but humorous depictions of subjects such as blacksmiths, shamans, wrestlers, or workers at harvest time masterfully express the traditional Korean character. Another interesting artist of the period was Shin Yun-bok (1758-?), styled Hye-won. (It has recently been discovered that Shin's original name was in fact Shin Ka-gwon.) With his daring use of a woman and her lover as subject matter, Shin vividly depicts the passion and romantic tastes of his era. Shin also excelled at landscapes in the literati style, depictions of birds and animals and calligraphy.

It was also during this period that Western painting was introduced via China. The characteristic techniques of Western painting, such as shading, perspective and depth, seem to have been introduced by a Korean mission that traveled to Yenjing. Kim Tu-ryang (1696-1763) and some other painters of the 18th century were the first to employ Western painting techniques, which were then used by government painters for palace paintings and pictures of scholarly implements. The early introduction of Western techniques can be seen in works by Kang Se-hwang (1713-1791) and Kang Hui-on (1738-1784). The former, who is thought to have been Kim Hong-do's teacher, added a sense of depth to his work A Trip to Songdo, while the latter, in his work, Mt. Inwangsan, paints the sky blue.

In the fourth period, which runs for more than 60 years from the late 19th century, realistic landscape and genre painting styles went into decline. In their place, the Southern school's literati style, which was centered around Kim Chong-hui's group, became even more influential. In addition, a group of maverick artists created a style based on a new artistic sensibility, which came to be known simply as the ovel style.'

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This new style is best represented by the refined genre pictures of Kim Chong-hui (1786-1856) and his followers Cho Hui-ryong (1789-1866), Ho Ryon (later renamed Ho Yu, 1809-1892) and Chon Ki (1825-1854)-the so-called Ch'usa school, and by the works of Kim Su-ch'tol and Hong Se-sop. While Kim Chong-hui's Ch'usa school can be credited with advancing the painting style of the Southern school, painters such as Kim Su-ch'iol and Hong Se-sop, created a novel style, which as its name suggests, had a unique sensibility. Kim Su-ch'iol, with his bold omissions, simple elegance and subtle coloring, created novel paintings that resembled water colors. His style became a beacon for traditional painters, and formed the link between traditional and modern painting. The talented government painter Chang Sung-op (1843-1897) is a representative figure from this period.

Around this time, Yi Ha-ung (1820-1898) and Min Yong-ik (1860-1914) popularized ink-drawings of orchids while Chong Hak-kyo (1832-1914) popularized fanciful paintings of granite peaks. In addition, the accumulation of wealth during this era led to the creation of regional circles of painters, such as the one centered around Ho Ryon in Cholla-do province, Yi Hui-su (1836-1909) and Yang Ki-hun (1843-1908) in P'yongyang, Chi Ch'ang-han (1851-1901) and U Sang-ha in the Hamgyong-do area and So Pyong-o (1862-1935) in the Kyongsang-do area.

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Folk Painting

In Korea, the status of folk paintings as part of traditional art was obscure up until the 20th century. Folk painting, which is not unique to Korea, is typically understood to fall under folk studies rather than art history. Yet, there is a great difference in opinion among Korean scholars concerning the position of folk art within traditional art in general, as well as the scope and definition of the term. In the 1960s, a pioneering Korean scholar by the name of Cho Cha-yong collected folk art works and conducted excavations. Beginning with the "Tiger Exhibition" in 1969, special exhibitions of folk art were held on a regular basis. Around this time, information on folk art began to appear in publications, creating popular interest in the subject.

Since folk paintings are generally ordinary paintings made for a practical purpose, typically no mention is made of the artist's name. At first glance, the paintings seem crude. Yet, they vividly portray the simple beauty of the common people, and express a faith filled with secular aspirations and optimism. With their humor and variegated colors, they capture the honest and natural aesthetic of the Korean people.

Since folk paintings are created for a practical purpose, few old examples remain. Yet, folk paintings have a diverse range of subjects, are colorful, concise in expression and treat familiar themes. Notably, since the 1960s, folk painting has begun to influence modern art circles.

Folk paintings can be classified, according to content, into a few or as many as 20 or 30 different styles. Distinguishable from general landscape paintings, minhwa landscapes include the typical Eighth scenic views of the Hwiao and Hwiang Rivers (a theme from China) and Korean landscapes. One can also find folk paintings created to decorate the interiors of rooms. These often depict the flower and bird motif, peonies, tiger-hunting scenes, comical magpie and tiger scenes and genre pictures of farmers working. Other pictures depict scholarly implements or contain inspirational verses-a clear demonstration of the respect for scholarship found in Confucian countries such as Korea.

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Flower and Bird Motif

Paintings of flowers and birds, along with depictions of landscapes and people, developed early within the general painting tradition of Northeast Asia. Indeed, paintings of the flowers and birds motif are the most common decorative folk paintings among those that remain. These works were sought after since they were most suitable for interior decorating. Such paintings, with their depictions of gorgeous blossoms and pairs of beautiful birds, symbolized the love between husband and wife and the desire for abundant offspring. They were generally kept in the bridal chamber or the bedroom where the wife and children slept.

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Paintings of Peonies

As a symbol of wealth, the peony, with its splendid blossoms and wide, smiling leaves, has been adored by the people of Northeast Asia. During the late Choson period, artists such as Ho Yu made black-ink painting of peonies. In folk paintings, on the other hand, blue and red paint was used to paint peonies jutting forth from rocky crags. These paintings are classified according to their size, which varied from small works to others that were more than nine meters long and were hung in the palace.

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Scholarly Implements

Depictions of scholarly implements, known as ch'aekkori or ch'aekkado, are important as a uniquely Korean theme that is rarely seen in other countries. These paintings, which often covered the folding screens of the palace, incorporated the Western techniques of perspective and shading. The pictures typically show unusually large shelves of books and scrolls along with decorative pottery and metal bowls. Government painters (particularly Yi Hyong-nok) are especially famous for paintings of this theme. Pictures of this type are diverse and include depictions of tableware or books and just scholarly implements without the accompanying shelves. Symbolically, these paintings reflect the honored position of scholarship in Confucian societies.

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Calligraphy Paintings

In these paintings, each character of a classical Chinese phrase extolling Confucian virtues such as filial piety, loyalty, etiquette or humility, is decorated with designs and pictures. The motifs within each character give hints to its significance, thus this style of painting is used for purposes of edification. As with other folk arts of the period, one rarely comes across two calligraphy paintings that are alike. Thus, this artistic form demonstrates extensive experimentation, imagination and colorful techniques of expression.

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Tiger Hunting Paintings

Paintings of hunting scenes have been around for a long time. Due to the large number of folk paintings of this type, hunting scenes are often thought of as a subject matter belonging exclusively to the minhwa style. However as with other types of folk paintings, tiger hunting scenes were first painted by professional painters. These thrilling depictions of large groups of hunters dressed in the attire of Manchurian nomads, are generally used to decorate military housing and installations. They are also used, by the common people, to ward off evil spirits.

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Korean Landscape Paintings

Landscape painting occupies the highest position among the painting styles of North-east Asia. Landscape was inspired by the idea of portraying beautiful scenery, majestic mountains and other lovely scenes from nature. Although it is often compared with Western landscape, Eastern landscape painting, having begun several centuries earlier, is clearly distinguishable. Gradually developed out of Northeast Asians' unique view of nature, Eastern landscape painting eventually surpassed the painting of people or flowers and bird motifs, to become the chief artistic form.

The beginning of Korean landscape art can be seen on the wall paintings of Koguryo tombs. In the Tomb of the Dancers, there is a painting of a hunting scene. As an excellent period piece showing hunting and dancing of the fifth to sixth century, the painting captures the vibrant, optimistic spirit of the Koguryo people. The picture also depicts numerous twisting valleys. In the Kangso great tumulus, amateurish texture strokes are used to depict mountains. Although it is not a painting, Paekche tiles bearing "mountain and river" motifs demonstrate an improvement in terms of the use of space in landscape composition. Since there are no extant Shilla landscape paintings, we cannot know exactly what they may have looked like, but it can be assumed that they underwent considerable development along with other Shilla art forms, and the same can be said of Koryo.

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Realistic Landscapes

The realistic landscape style, known in Korean as shilgyong sansu or chin-gyong sansu, does not simply represent an attempt to create photo-realistic reproductions of actual Korean landscapes. For in this style of painting, not only the subject matter but even the artistic techniques are different. While painting their own native landscapes, Korean artists created unique illustrative techniques for depicting mountain landscapes, which look quite different than those of the main-stream idealistic style.

Korean painters are generally classified as either professional painters working for the government's Office of Paintings or literati who painted as a hobby. These two types of painters played complementary roles in the development of Korean art. Literati artists at times displayed crude technique, but played a positive role in the introduction and popularization of new styles from China.

The Toyotomi Hideyoshi invasions and the Manchu invasion of 1636 led to a period of introspection. The national awakening that was born out of this period appeared throughout Korea, affecting its society, economy and culture. In this sense, these changes can be compared to the renaissance that the West underwent from the late-fourteenth to the early sixteenth centuries.

This Korean renaissance also occurred in the realm of painting, for it was during this era that genre paintings became popular. In addition to depicting high-ranking officials, these paintings took the daily lives of farmers, artisans and merchants as their main subject matter. These paintings, which would have previously been unthinkable, have today become invaluable as historical materials. Looking at these paintings, scholars can get a vivid glimpse of the vibrant atmosphere of the times and learn much that has not been passed down in the texts of the period. In addition to genre works, realistic landscape painting was also popular at this time. The elegant landscape style of this period is often referred to as the most characteristically Korean art style. Fortunately, many paintings from this period still exist today. Just as kimchi is the representative Korean food, realistic landscapes along with genre paintings are artistic styles that exhibit the true Korean character.

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The Kyomjae School

The government official Chong Son (1676-1759, styled Kyomjae) developed a unique landscape style which served as a model for Korean painters. Clearly distinguishable from Chinese landscape, this new style, which came to be known as the Kyomjae school, had a deep impact on both government and literati painters of the period.

Although to a lesser extent, Chong Son's influence was also felt among government artists. Kim EUng-hwan (1742-1789) , who is thought to have been Kim Hong-do's teacher, demonstrated composition and brush style similar to those of Chong Son in his work Mt. Kumgangsan and in his album of Mt. Kumgangsan paintings. Kim Hong-do (1745-1806), in particular, developed the style, establishing a distinctive form for Korean landscape. This style's influence can also be seen in Mt. Tobongsan by Kim Sok-shin (1758-?), P'yohunsa temple by Ch'oe Puk (1712-1786) the paintings of Kim Yu-song (1725-?), Cho Chong-gyu (1791-?), Yu Suk (1827-1873, and Em Ch'i-uk's paintings, which resemble those of Kim Hong-do.

Under Chong Son's influence, literati painters also began to develop a slightly different painting style. Although few in number, the realistic landscape paintings of Shim Sa-jong (1707-1769) bear traces of Chong Son's influence. Other masters of realistic landscape created a distinctive style based on the Southern school. Examples include the "Sea and Mountains" album and the more than 10-meter-long painting of the Han-gang river by Chong Su-yong (1743-1831), A Trip to Songdo by Kang Se-hwang (1713-1791), and the paintings of Yi In-sang (1710-1760) and Kim Yun-gyom (1711-1775).

In the mid-19th century, Kim Chong-hui's (1786-1856) new artistic style and theory signified the end of the realistic landscape style; yet its traces can still be detected in the landscapes of Pyon Kwan-shik (1899-1976) and Yi Sang-bom (1897-1972).

The period from 1700 to 1850 formed the background for realistic painting. Preceded by the mid-Choson period (16th century) with its emphasis on Neo-Confucian thought, the 17th century in China was marked by the transition from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing-a dynasty established by the Jurchen people of Manchuria. Koreans were greatly confused by these events; yet on the other hand, they felt a great sense of pride as the true successors of Chinese culture. It is thus natural that Koreans, at precisely this time, began to look to their own landscape for subject matter and started to paint human figures wearing Korean instead of Chinese clothing. Both genre paintings and realistic landscape paintings appeared from precisely this sort of background.

This new movement was not limited to painting. For calligraphy and crafts such as sculpture and ceramics, the late-Choson period was a "golden age" during which Korean art developed its most distinctive form.

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Modern Painting


When seen from a broad perspective, modern Korean art has been a pendulum swinging back and forth between two divergent approaches. On one hand, there has been an effort to transcend traditional forms. On the other hand, many artists have been attempting to rediscover the spirit of traditional art.

The former trend is based on the premise that Korean art must break free from the inertia of the past. In other words, a dramatic leap in development is required to make the nation's art meaningful to the current generation. The abstractionist movement that dominated the international art scene after the World War II has encouraged this trend.

The latter trend is partially a reaction to the former movement. Some artists have been concerned that the attempt to transcend traditional forms would result in the creation of generic art that had no connection with Korean history and culture. There is also concern that the modern Korean art movement might result in second rate Western style works. Thus, many artists have advocated the development of traditional black ink and color paintings along with the traditional perspectives on man, nature, objects and the universe. These artists, who are mostly young, are pushing for a restructuring of traditional forms from a modern perspective.

Others claim that the abstractionism now seen in modern art actually formed the basis of Korea's traditional art and calligraphy. Moreover, they claimed that this abstractionist trend could be found in many facets of the Korean character, such as the love of nature, preference for natural media and minimization of artificiality. Furthermore, they claim these attitudes were expressed not only in paintings, but in traditional Korean sculpture and handicrafts as well.

Thus, the movement to transcend tradition and the counter-movement to rediscover it, have been the two key ideological currents of Korea's modern painting. Below, we will look at how these two approaches have appeared within each era.

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Early 1900s

Born at the beginning of the twentieth century, Korea's modern art initial development occurred during chaotic times marked by Japanese colonial rule (1910-45), the transition to self-rule and the Korean War (1950-1953). The era was characterized by ideological conflict and the irrational cold war struggle between the South and the North. Young artists were thus engulfed within an intense existential struggle.

During this time, the traditional value system collapsed, leading to a quest for new values. Likewise, artists searched for new meaning in their art as they attempted to change artistic attitudes and goals. Many of these artists turned to the international art world and the non-traditional, abstract forms of expression currently popular in European and American art after World War II.

Most artists of the period strongly felt that traditional art forms were unable to meet the demands of the new age. This general sense that a change was needed presaged a new phase in modern Korean painting. At this time, Korean painting was composed of two general trends: the so-called Oriental and Western styles of painting (By the 1990s, these two trends have become less distinct due to synthesis). The fifty-year history of modern Korean painting is actually the history of the inter-relationship between these two trends as artists have attempted to assimilate them into a modern Korean style.

The first movement towards assimilation of these two trends occurred during the Korean War. As artists fled to the countryside, their works began to show an introspective attitude. The movement began with so-called Oriental style painters, such as Kim Ki-ch'ang. Using traditional materials such as paper, brushes and ink, Kim painted in a unique, semi-abstract style. In his paintings, Kim employed strong outlines to draw human figures with divided planes as well as scenes from everyday life. Kim's unique style and innovation is particularly remarkable in light of the fact that he was a tradition painter of Oriental colored paintings.

Kim also experimented with abstract representations of Chinese characters and the use of crumpled paper, which was then died and painted with dots. In this respect, he clearly wanted to transcend traditional Korean art forms and create a new painting style using Western painting techniques. His wife and fellow artist, Pak Nae-hyon, also went beyond traditional painting styles to create her own artistic form. Later in America, she created an entirely new painting style using fabrics and woodblock etchings.

Another artist by the name of Kwon Yong-u investigated the use of Korean paper, which had served as a medium for traditional paintings. Going beyond the use of paper as a mere painting medium, Kwon experimented with blotting, tearing and folding as ways to accent the paper's color. Kwon recently held an exhibit at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul

Yun Hyong-gun, on the other hand, used Western-style oil painting, but imitated traditional Korean styles. His paintings utilize the traditional sense of space and through the use dark brown on a light-colored canvas, he is able to create the blotting effect of black ink paintings. The above painters sought to break free from the strict adherence to tradition so as to create a new artistic form. It is interesting to note that attempts to reach a new interpretation of traditional art were put forward by artists schooled in both Western and Eastern painting styles.

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As a government-run institution, the National Exhibition played a leading role in the advancement of Korean art. Although this important center remained active for thirty years after its 1949 inauguration, it had a productive and significant influence for only a few years after it was founded. The institution's collection primarily consisted of black ink landscape paintings and traditional color paintings of human figures. Its influence can be attributed to its willingness to accept a certain amount of innovation and experimentation. Western painting was particular problematic for this exhibition center.

The National Exhibition had a rather formal, academic atmosphere and therefore tended to chose works that were realistic. In spite of its hidebound sensibilities, the exhibition wielded tremendous authority. Young artists saw this institution as an unbearable obstacle. Looking at people and objects from a new perspective, these young upstarts sought to create an art in tune with the new age.

By about 1957, these artists were actively setting a new course. As enthusiasm for a new generation of art grew, opposition to the institutionalized art establishments also increased. Meanwhile, young Korean artists collectively embraced the abstract expressionism movement that arose in Europe and America around World War II. Abstract expressionism arose from the experience of the war, and Koreans, having first hand experience of the war's great tragedy, confidently took up this new movement. For one decade beginning with the late 1950s, young painters such as Pak So-bo and Ha Chong-hyong zealously devoted themselves to this new style, known as the Informal' movement. The daily newspaper Chosun Ilbo also contributed to the modern Korean art movement by holding several exhibitions of free form art.

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From the late 1960s and 1968 in particular, modern Korean painting began to change directions. The Informal' movement, with its spirit of free expression, gradually became less influential. Artists, looking for a new direction, became interested in geometrical abstraction and optical trends. In particular, the Origin Group of artists sought to re-establish the original value of form.

Other artist groups took a deep interest in subject-matters that conveyed the innate unity between man and nature. The Avante Garde' Group and space and Time' Group were also formed during this time. Ironically, these young artists, in their attempts to push Korean art beyond the limits of tradition, had actually arrived at the traditional conceptualization of man and nature as an indivisible unity.

In the late 1970s, this trend expanded into the new direction of monochromatic paintings. This movement, which could perhaps be called Korean minimalism, was essentially a method of reducing modern art to Korean traditional forms. This minimalist, monochromatic movement also corresponded well with the sculptural trends of the time. With broad appeal, it became the representative form of Korean art, both in Korea and abroad.

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After 1980

Korean painting of the 1980s was largely a reaction to the modernism of the 1970s. During this period, many artists strongly felt that art should convey a message about current social issues. Perceiving their art as a form of social criticism, these artists sought to distinguish their works from other modern art genres. Young artists from the period sought a pertinent social role for their art. In artistic terms, they seem to have generally followed the Western return to representational art.

From the mid-1980s to the present, and particularly as a result of the 1998 Seoul Olympics, there has been a strong international trend in Korean art. On one hand, there has been an interest in the issues of modernism and post-modernism. At the same time, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of foreign exhibitions shown in Korea and Korean exhibitions shows abroad. Korean artists are now confident that the foreign artistic community can appreciate their treatment of artistic themes. Put simply, modern Korean art can survive on the world stage. The mid-1970s enthusiasm for traditional art reappeared during the mid-1980s. By the 1990s, Koreans became interested in the uniqueness of Korean traditional culture. Korean artists began to realized that their unique traditions had certain features that gave it worldwide appeal. Korean painters are now using refined techniques and forms of expression to create modern paintings based on traditional Korean culture. In this sense, Korean painting and Korean art in general, is developing at an unprecedented pace.

A good example of these modern trends can be found in Yook Keun Byung's painting Saengjonun Yoksada (Life is History). Commonly known as 'the tomb with eyes,' this painting was featured in the ninth (1992) Cassel Documentary. According to Yook, human beings contain the universe within themselves, and the essence of human beings is reflected in their eyes. In his videos on the history of man, he also emphasizes the importance of man's eyes. During the Venice Biannual in 1995, the Korean State Pavilion was constructed. In another work called Hoksongui Panghwang, Yook mixes ancient Shilla clay figures with modern garbage of which art work has been widely acclaimed.

In 1995, the International Kwangju Biannual was held in Kwangju. The event provided an opportunity for modern Korean artists to get together in one place with leading figures of the international art world. Paik Nam-jun's Info Art' show was one of the more prominent exhibitions. Kang Ik-chung, a Korean representative at the Venice Biannual, provided a glimpse into one aspect of modern Korean art with his collection of small, three-inch-long paintings.

In addition to these external developments, there have been a number of significant internal changes within the Korean art world. In particular, Korean artists have succeeded in capturing the spirit of traditional art while presenting it in modern terms so that it appeals to modern sensibilities. In the 1990s, numerous paintings are appearing that employ controlled expression and ample use of space. The spirit of such paintings is readily found in Korea's traditional art.

Sanjong is a representative Korean artist. He employs black ink, fast and slow brush strokes, light and heavy strokes and control over brush pressure. At the same time, his paintings demonstrate an exhilarating sense of freedom. Kurin, Kuriji Annun Hoehwa is another important modern work painted by the young artist Kim Yong-gil who is also working in the United States.

Wall murals and mosaics have also become a popular art medium. Artists are experimenting with new possibilities in modern art by producing paintings on key public buildings, subway stations, schools, hospitals and galleries.

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