,Often, we dream of being away from everyday life and travelling somewhere faraway. So did our ancestors. Joseon scholars liked to read travelogues or look at landscape paintings at home when they could not travel. They called this “whayu”, which literally means “travelling lying down”. It originated in the story of the Southern Song landscape painter Bing Zong(373-443):
When young, he travelled many places, but as he became old and ill and could no longer travel, he painted the landscapes of his memories and hung them on the walls of his room to enjoy instead of travelling.
Inspired by this form of travelling in one’s mind, especially as mediated by landscape paintings, this exhibition has brought together a number of Korean landscape paintings and invites visitors to enjoy Korea’s natural scenery. Whoever enters will be able to initiate this imaginary travel and enjoy the beauty of Korean nature at their own pace.
Taking a Stroll
Jung Jaeho’s painting series Apartment examines socially disadvantaged areas in cities. His interest in old apartments began when he encountered an aging residential complex called Cheongwoon Simin Apartments which was slated for demolition. As he recalls, “The bleak scenery was like my past, the present of people I knew, and also their future.” Jung’s paintings present the apartments not as eyesores to be torn down, but as places of warmth, homes in the truest sense, where time plays out in the accumulation of lives lived. Bukak Monument-Jeongneung Sky Apartment Buildings captures the affection of the artist’s gaze for the buildings and their residents in its depiction of a styrofoam window cover, blue plants in front of an apartment door, and old furniture.
Jeong Yongkook painted Gray Forest based on his memory of the empty fields and hills that surround the artist’s studio. Though real, it is mediated by memory, giving it its unreal quality – he describes it “a forest in my memory”, and the viewer can witness various forms of natural life coming to life out of the quiet monochromatic plane. Ebb Tide is a part of his series Perspective on Rim, which addresses the natural landscape that has been destroyed during the building of Cheong-na International City in Incheon. Explaining the work, he wrote, “Because of the reclamation of the public beach, the ebb tide couldn’t reach the area enough, and its neighbouring tidal mudflat began to crack, throwing up white salt. This creation of a horizontally expanded world that subjugated a nearby island through reclamation is reminiscent of the haphazard expansion of human desire.” This work conveys the tragedy that attends human desire by depicting parched mudflats and plants under the city’s monumental apartment complexes.
Yoo Geun-taek brings the conceptual language of Korean painting to bear on quotidian s and surroundings. As the artist puts it, “Rather than climbing mountains to paint landscapes, I attend to the wonders of the world captured in my everyday life and surroundings that breathe with me.” As a result, even though they are painted on hanji using ink, his paintings are thoroughly modern in both subject and expression. The displayed paintings, entitled Certain Magnificent Scenery, depict commonplace scenes of a new town. Apartment buildings are familiar subjects, yet in Yoo’s hands, they are arranged in a way that creates a strange and unsettling sensation.
Whang Inkie digitally converts two-dimensional pictures into pixelated images, then using the image as a model he reassembles them three-dimensionally using plastic blocks, silicon pieces or rivets as individual pixels. Blurring the boundaries between the traditional and the modern, Eastern and Western cultures with this method, Whang has expanded the domain of Korean painting. Namgogri in Winter (2019) depicts a scene encountered by the artist in his daily commute to his studio. The scenery reconstituted with Lego-blocks, which appears as a digital image, shows a new expression of Korean true-view landscape.
Going on a Journey into the Nature
Byeon Gwansik (1899-1976) studied traditional painting techniques at the Governor-General of Korea’s Industrial & Technical Education Institute from 1914 to 1916 and moved to Japan to continue his studies. In 1923, he organized the gathering Dongyeonsa in partnership with Lee Sangbeom, Lee Yong-woo, Noh Suhyun and others. His paintings were often exhibited in the Calligraphy and Brush Painting Exhibition and the Joseon Art Exhibition. At the beginning, Byeon produced primarily landscape paintings that combined Southern and Northern School styles, and later he developed a brushwork characterized by “accumulated ink” and “broken line with dots”. The landscape paintings produced in Japan provides a glimpse of the formation of his unique painting style. (Courtesy of MMCA)
Lee Sangbeom (1897-1972) was one of the four great artists in modern Korean landscape painting. In 1914, he enrolled in the Gyeongseong Calligraphy and Brush Painting School and studied there under Ahn Joongsik and Cho Seokjin. His paintings were awarded a number of prizes at the Joseon Art Exhibitions. Landscape (1955) boasts the artist’s fluent brushwork, which creates the landscape’s sense of immersiveness with its striking tonal contrast. With short and rapid brushstrokes, he depicted the shabby farm houses surrounded by snow-clad hills. At the centre of the painting a farmer, his back slightly bent, seemingly returning from work, is managing the climb up to his home in whose courtyard stands a cow with a load on its back. The smoke rising from the chimneys and filling the empty space, occupying a great portion of the painting, emphasizes the poetic silence of the mountain village in winter. (Courtesy of MMCA)