Author: Kyung-ja Lee
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|>>>This book is written in Korean.|
About This Book
Novel Looks Inside Life of Late Park Soo-keun
"The Washing Place," a well-known painting by Park Soo-keun (1914-1965), was sold for 4.5 billion won at Seoul Auction in May 2007, setting a record in local art history. The painting depicts a group of women by a stream washing clothes ¯ a typical scene from rural villages in the past. But the painting soon got embroiled in an art forgery scandal, and now its authentication process in the court has become the hottest issue in the Korean art world.
A new novel with the same title written by veteran author Lee Kyung-ja (Munidang; 252 pp., 10,000 won) recounts the miserable life of the painter and his family from a fictional viewpoint. The novel depicts a more human side of the gifted painter rather than his artistic achievements.
The story begins with Song-nam, his eldest son who awakes at night when a reporter calls to tell him that "The Washing Place" might be a fake. Shocked at the news, he decides to go to the United States to see John Ricks, the painting's owner, to confirm originality.
But the long pent-up conflict between father and son soon resurfaces, catapulting him into memories of his father.
He flashes back to his childhood when the family was poor as his father's paintings were not appreciated.
Song-nam remembers his father as an incompetent head of the household; there is an apparent grievance mixed with hatred toward his father.
In his childhood, Soo-keun always called him the "guy without talent" and sometimes was very harsh and strict with him when drawing his portrait. As he grew up, he harbored a grudge against his father who left his mother and siblings in poverty. His mother, Kim Bok-sun, was devoted to the family and fully supported Soo-keun with respect while educating her children to respect their father.
But Song-nam didn't want to follow in his father's footsteps and decided to go to vocational school instead of college to earn money for the family in the place of his father.
Soo-keun was talented but never fully appreciated during his lifetime. He was not a calculating person and had a good personality with a subtle and fragile character and strong enthusiasm for painting.
He lived under Japanese colonial rule and saw his father's business go bankrupt. The family also lost their farmland due to floods when he was only seven.
Soo-keun couldn't afford to attend art school, so taught himself how to paint.
He devoted his life to depicting the goodness and truthfulness of humans through the images of the nameless and poor common people. He accomplished a model of aesthetics unique to Korea by emphasizing the nature of the subject using simple forms and line drawings and by expressing the Korean sentiment through a material somewhat like granite and the use of Western artistic techniques.
But in his son's eyes, the works looked dark, gloomy, inaccurate and even dull with nothing special in them. He hated and even felt ashamed about his father's paintings.
During the artist's lifetime, his paintings were sold and appreciated by a small number of Americans who temporarily lived in Korea right after the Korean War (1950-1953).
Song-nam, like other connoisseurs and critics, didn't recognize Soo-keun's artwork until he passed away.
Soo-keun, who lost his eyesight in one of his eyes due to cataracts and suffered from liver cirrhosis, the main culprit for his death, was a miserable artist who died without holding a solo exhibition.
Song-nam gradually resembles his father and seems to inherit his talents. He becomes a painter who first imitates his father's works and understands his father's art world.
The story then returns to the present in which Song-nam meets John Ricks, the original owner of "The Washing Place," Soo-keun gave him as a gift in exchange for paints and canvases.
He finds his father in the conversation with Ricks and relieves his painful memory and finally reconciles with him in his imagination.
The novel doesn't aim at judging the authenticity of the artwork and instead tries to portray the inner struggles of the painter as a father who sells his paintings for his family, and delicate psychological changes of each character.
"I have a very ordinary idea about art that I should draw the goodness and truthfulness of humans. So the human characters on my paintings are simple and not diverse. I enjoy drawing the images of common grandmothers and grandfathers and, of course, children," Soo-keun said.
The author says that Soo-keun brought out the essence of the objects that he drew. Using the matiere technique, he created tactile surfaces that are as rough as granite and close to naturalness and naivety. Soo-keun is described from sympathetic and affectionate points of view as a father with artistic talents, but with the human distress of the hard times, pursuing "goodness" and the commonplace through rough images.
-- Chung Ah-young, www.koreatimes.co.kr
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