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Respecting Life on Canvas: Kim Byung-Jong

Respecting Life on Canvas: Kim Byung-Jong

Artist Kim Byung-jong's paintings are a homage to life. He might have explored various themes throughout paintings over the past 40 years, but what he has expressed in the brushstrokes boils down to one thing: the preciousness of life. 
The 69-year-old artist looks back on his artistic career at the exhibition "40 Years of Kim Byung-jong's Drawing Life: His Brushes Don't Know How to Fall Asleep" at the Namwon City Kim Byungjong Art Museum founded in 2018 in Namwon, home to 81,000 people in North Jeolla Province. The city-run museum is dedicated to the artist who was born and grew up in the town. 
“Eventually, it seems I have pursued only one theme in my paintings, although they appear to be different subjects,” Kim told The Korea Herald in a recent interview. The red flower in “The Song of Life” series permeates in Korea’s traditional mulberry paper, or hanji, with smudges of red. Somehow, the heart looks like a heart. 
Kim has explored Korean traditional painting throughout the decades, taking inspiration from elements he has found in traditional Korean paintings and applying it to his own art. He had taught fine art in the department of oriental painting at Seoul National University from 1985 to 2018 and was a director of Seoul National University Museum from 2002 to 2004. 
The landscape -- often seen in traditional ink wash paintings -- is painted as the background of the red flower along with living things such as a crane, bird and fish as if they are praising life, or the red flower that is seemingly talking about life. 
Kim was drawn to the theme of life in the 1990s following a serious accident that nearly took his life in 1989. He become grateful for his life and was moved by a single flower on a street at the time. 
"From a flower, I found the beauty of a life. All the natural elements came as valuable things to me, then I thought of my childhood in Namwon when I was surrounded by beautiful nature. After the incident, I was determined to bring life to dim cities as an artist with my paintings." 
Kim has donated some 440 works of art, including his painting series “The Song of Life,” to the museum this year and when the museum was founded almost five years ago with the hope that the museum could bring dreams to people who visit the museum and the town with its beautiful nature. 
Building the museum dedicated to the Namwon native artist had been in talks for a long time: 22 years. The relatively small city lacked the cultural infrastructure at the time, he recalled. 
The exhibition commemorates the 40th anniversary of Kim's artistic career and the fifth anniversary of the museum. The retrospective comprises four sections exploring from his early works that include "Jesus" to the latest series that he started to paint in the 2000s. 
"Now I am working on a new series using five cardinal colors," he said. 
Kim studied fine arts at Seoul National University and was awarded the Korea Order of Cultural Merit in 2014, given by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. 

Source: Park Yuna, Korea Herald


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