There is an old tale about the “Hallasan-shin,” the spirits of Jeju Island’s Mount Halla, but world-renowned American artist Windsor Joe Innis didn’t believe it on one of his first trips to the island.
“I was told that if you leave without paying tribute to the biggest spirit here, the Old Woman of the Mountain, she will chase you down and bring you back,” he said. “I wasn’t particularly interested in it, I thought it was quaint. But apparently I didn’t pay tribute enough.”
|Artist Windsor Joe Innis walks his dog amongst Jeju Island’s volcanic rock formations.|
Over two years ago, Windsor returned to the island and bought a property with stunning views of Mount Halla, and the rock the Old Woman used as her pillow.
“That woman up there was anxious for me to come back and set up my studios here.”
Like the many couples that honeymoon on the famous island, Windsor has been captured by Jeju’s drama, beauty and spirituality, and is currently preparing for a 75-painting exhibition which will showcase work inspired by his time on Jeju Island.
It will be Windsor’s first exhibition on the island, and is due to open at the Jeju Contemporary Museum of Art in July.
“You get up in the morning, the air is fresh, and you’re already halfway there,” Windsor said of his days on the island. “I’m actually painting everyday, 365 days a year where possible.”
The American, now in his 70s, has enjoyed a career as an artist and an author that has spanned almost 50 years, multiple continents and includes seven published books.
Windsor was on a military posting in the 1960s in France, just an hour from Paris, when his love of art, culture and travel was awakened.
But with a degree in journalism from San Diego State University, Windsor was to spend over ten years as a journalist in various guises before realizing he could better express himself through art.
|‘Jeju Abalone’ by Windsor Joe Innis (www.innisart.com)|
“I’ve always believed I had something to say. I mistook journalism for a means to say it,” he said. “You could sleepwalk and write this stuff. Given this, I studied art, starting in museums, moving to libraries before getting serious. When I got strong enough, I took a scholarship to enter an excellent Master of Fine Arts program in San Miguel, Mexico.”
Since that time, Windsor has dedicated his life to art and the ways in which art can help create a better understanding of different cultures. He has lived in cities and towns around the world, and exhibited in a number of countries, including Korea, France, England, Japan and Mexico.
“Learning a small piece of a cultural puzzle here (in Korea) or in any of the other places I’ve lived has allowed me to absorb the experience and apply it to my art. For me, that’s no small thing,” said Windsor.
“A painter is not restricted by his or her passport. We all have an opportunity to move around, to learn. We become diplomats, if you will, although that is a pretty corny term.”
It was during a trip to France that Korea was recommended to Windsor by “a young woman I could never forget,” he said. Windsor travelled to Korea, and that “young woman” became his wife and has been an instrumental figure in organizing some of his most important exhibitions.
One of those exhibitions was in Tokyo, 1984. Windsor and his soon-to-be wife had been living in Seoul, and the Tokyo show was “an exhibition of one American’s idea of painting in Korea,” Windsor recalls.
“The show was an enormous success, with great press, great attention in Tokyo, and great support from the Korean Embassy in Tokyo as well,” he said. “It served to be a bridge from one contentious country to another. It was kind of a breakthrough at the time.”
The Tokyo exhibition was Windsor’s first international show, and enjoyed support from a number of high-profile art lovers, including Christie’s Contemporary Art of London, and Princess Yi Bangja of Korea (Princess Nashimoto Masako of Japan), who wrote an introductory comment for a book of paintings containing Windsor’s novella “The Better Times.”
Despite his fascination with Korea and the East, Windsor’s passion for travel saw him return to live in San Miguel, Mexico, for a few years with his wife, before travelling further throughout the world and finally returning to Korea.
Surrounded by the volcanic landscapes, dense forests and seaside views of Jeju Island, Windsor has found an abundance of potential around his new home. But while inspiration constitutes some part of his painting, Windsor also believes art should be the result of study and hard work.
“I spend almost all of my days in the studio,” he said. “I need to spend time not only painting, but reading, and working out the problems that many other artists that preceded me left behind.
“Art is a visual language that evolved over thousands of years. To learn to speak it takes a certain aptitude and dedication. You can’t fake the skill any more than a violinist, actress or ballerina can.”
Windsor has written a book which chronicles his relationship with Jeju Island through words, photos and pictures called “Windsor’s Mystic Island.” The book has been published in Korean, and was released last year.
Windsor’s family is also involved in a horse ranch on Jeju Island, which allows Windsor to indulge in another of his great passions in life.
“I enjoy horse racing, and I spend a lot of time following it. But I’m there for the horses, not for the business,” said Windsor. “I look at horses differently from most people in business. They have the innocence and beauty that I like to paint.”
By Hamish Boland Rudder, Intern reporter