Seogwipo’s art scene just got a little bit more interesting. The Jeongbang-dong Culture Center in Seogwipo offers affordable ink wash painting classes taught by expert Kim Seung-jun. Mr. Kim is an accomplished artist with a big heart who teaches his classes not for the money but to spread the love of this traditional painting style that has taken on Korean characteristics since its introduction from the Chinese style about 1,000 years ago.
Class attendees include both Koreans and non-Koreans, and classes are conducted harmoniously despite some language barriers. Some students have been attending the classes for several months and some, such as Jack Dryden, have recently joined this challenging and interesting course in an effort to learn more about Korean culture and art. Attending for about a month now, Dryden has already learned about basic brush strokes and how to paint orchids. “It’s more about motion and the meditative process,” he said. “It can be difficult, but it’s about understanding how the brush and movements work.”
Class veterans Eugene Campbell and Petya Campbell, Jungmun residents, have been attending the class on a weekly basis since last March and find it’s a productive and creative outlet and a way to spend time together. Eugene also saw this as an opportunity to get back into painting, a hobby he hasn’t been regular about in years. The son of a painter, Eugene reminisced on his days when he made carvings as a boy and said, “You get old, you tend to settle in, and you go back to some of the things you were interested in before. I want to do more art, especially fusion.”
Eugene describes this method of art as, “not just painting. It’s considered a state of meditation, harmonizing yourself with nature and your spiritual side. In that sense, it’s really sublime. The painting itself is very sublime…There is creativity involved in this very traditional and methodical art form. It is the development of your technique [that] brings joy and harmony.”
After awakening her artistic abilities in a silk painting class where she painted shirts, blouses and scarves, Petya became interested in ink wash painting class after a Korean friend introduced her to the method. She finds this class fun but particularly challenging because, “when you draw pictures with watercolors or oil paintings, you can correct your mistakes, but with these pictures, if you make one mistake you have to make a new picture.”
“…For the first time in my life,” continued Petya, “I have met a teacher that is really an artist in his heart. He is a real art teacher. He is always very kind and always tries to help and show you [what to do]. He is never upset or disappointed if you cannot do it well. Everyone likes him.”
Korean ink wash painting varies from Chinese ink wash painting in two ways: Koreans paint slower and use longer brushes. There are five key elements to this form of painting that artists keep in mind, which are the basis of many oriental thoughts and philosophy. Each element stands for a different movement:
fire – twisting the brush with your fingers
water – wrist movement
wood – stroke and jab
metal – sweeping of the arm
earth – poking movements
There are also four noble plants that are very important in this style of art thereby becoming the favored subject by some artists:
Traditional ink wash painters are often superstitious and believe some items cannot be painted without including another, such as pine trees and cranes. Together they mean good luck but separated means the artist will not live a long life. Mountain spirits are always painted with tigers, chrysanthemums are always painted with wood and orchids always have dots on the bottom. These are just a few examples. Each painting also includes a small poem in traditional calligraphy.
Eugene’s favorite subject to paint is a cactus. One of his most influential years was spent camping in the desert near Tucson, Arizona while wearing no shoes and Eugene attempts to create the look and feel of the desert through his fusion art, portraying a subject found only in the west through an eastern art medium. His art is particularly eye catching for this reason.
“Art has a purpose and it is to express beauty,” Eugene said. “It’s true that art expresses other things that can be ugly. If someone wants to paint something ugly, they do not use this art form. It only expresses beauty.”
Petya enjoys changing her subjects frequently, from grapes to cranes to other subjects, unlike most of her Korean classmates that focus on one subject so they can master it and “create perfection,” as she called it. Petya says that part of this class for her is creating the movements that the masters have passed on. “Western people, we don’t inherit this,” she said.
“Europe has had a tumultuous history of fighting and war. This is not to say the Far East hasn’t had their share of fighting. The East is into peace. This is the whole idea of what Buddhism is about. You sit and allow yourself to become empty. It’s not that it’s better than our dynamic west but it’s another aspect.”
The Jeongbang-dong Culture Center is located in Seogwipo. To join, come to the class with 10,000 won for the teacher. Classes are held weekly on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Painting supplies can be ordered from the teacher such as the brush (25,000 won), 100 sheets of paper (12,000 won) and a small fee for the plastic bottle for black ink. While these items can be purchased at local markets, it’s possible to purchase higher quality supplies for a discounted rate through this class. It is also possible this class will be put on hold until March as Mr. Kim, the instructor, travels from Jeju City to teach and hopes to avoid harsh winter road conditions. For more information in English, call Eugene Campbell (010-8873-3268).