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Californians show Korea-inspired art in Seoul

The exotic culture of an Asian country has captivated five U.S. artists and made them a team.

Lois Lancaster, Linus Lancaster, Chris Sarley, Mary Pettis-Sarley and Marilyn Hulbert, all California-based artists, have been collaborating since last year because they share a same interest: Korean culture. 
Linus Lancaster talks about his work “Land Buoy”
Linus Lancaster talks about his work “Land Buoy”

After holding two joint-exhibitions in California last year, they flew here to show their Korea-inspired artworks to the Korean public.

The exhibition “Five Looking West” which is currently under way at Korea Foundation Cultural Gallery in Sunhwa-dong, central Seoul, showcases around 50 pieces of the artists’ ceramics, sculptures, prints, photos and books. The title of the show signifies how the artists always “look West” across the Pacific over to Korea.

“Last time I was here, I had time to really walk around the city. I first saw Jangseung and Sotae and I was struck at how powerfully I felt that they were imbued in spirit. I don’t know what exactly, but Korea has a unique ability of giving me the feeling of the presence of spirits,” Linus Lancaster told The Korea Herald. 
Chris Sarley looks at his works with visitors. (Korea Foundation)
Chris Sarley looks at his works with visitors. (Korea Foundation)

Except for Lois Lancaster, the mother of Linus, curator of the exhibition and a fairly well-known book artist in the U.S., the names of the participating artists are unfamiliar.

“They may not be world renowned artists yet but officials from the National Museum of Contemporary Art and other major art institutes gave favorable comments on their works,” said Park Shin-hee, senior program officer at The Korea Foundation.

Linus Lancaster introduced his work “Land Buoy,” inspired from “Jangseung,” or a Korean totem pole that acts as a village guardian.

“I was inspired by Jangseung because they have the ability to show humor and to be threatening at the same time. Its spirit was something that felt real and the fact that they were site-specific but had been moved later on was interesting,” he said.

Wondering what would happen if an object that has a spirit designed for the specific site gets moved later on, he created a portable Jangseung with removable sections so that it could be put in a car and brought around.

“It has been to Mexico two times and all over the western United States,” said Lancaster.

Except for the Lancasters who had the chance to visit Korea several times thanks to Linus’ father, who is a Buddhist scholar, the rest of the group had never been in Korea before preparing for this exhibition. Interestingly though, each of them fell in love with the country through different occasions.

Photographer Hulbert first met Korean Art through a Korean magazine she found at work more than 25 years ago.

“I remember being very surprised by the strong use of color and boldness of the graphics at that time. Recently in revisiting the Korean folk paintings of long ago, I was very moved by the beauty of the artwork, influenced by the repetition of pattern and intrigued by ‘the void’ in Korean art,” said Hulbert.

She is displaying images of Korea, including those of the mountains, at the exhibition.

In case of Sarley, his very first ceramics teacher, a Korean-American, introduced him to the world of pottery and Korean culture. He is now a potter, who uses a Korean style kiln that he built.

“The building and firing of a Korean style kiln is one of life’s greatest joys. First, it is a community of potters who band together for the construction and the subsequent uses of the kiln. The process of packing and firing takes days of effort and then when the kiln is clammed, we all wait for days before it is possible to open it and see treasures or the failures,” said Sarley.

“It is a very involved process. It actually takes years to learn them. I am still learning.”

The exhibition runs through Jan. 22 at Korea Foundation Cultural Gallery in Sunhwa-dong, central Seoul. Admission is free. For more information, call (02) 2151-6514 or visit www.kf.or.kr.

By Park Min-young  (claire@heraldcorp.com)
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