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Painter speaks about art and age

Prior to opening of solo exhibition, Kim Jong-hak says his painting matures as he gets older

Artist Kim Chong-hak is known for landscape paintings that portray the dynamic energy of Korean nature. Moreover, he’s known as the painter of Seoraksan Mountain, one of the most rugged mountains in the country that boasts great sceneries throughout the year.

Kim is one of the few Korean painters who chooses to go deep inside the mountain to better portray the pristine landscape.

Having painted the diverse landscapes of Seoraksan Mountain for more than 30 years, Kim held a retrospective in 2011 at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art that looked back on the 50 years of his artistic career.

This year, as the artist celebrates his 77th birthday, he is holding an exhibition that shows the maturity and wisdom that helped him produce some of his best works. 
Kim Chong-hak paints at his studio. (Gallery Hyundai)
Kim Chong-hak paints at his studio. (Gallery Hyundai)

“My grandfather, who was a poet, used to say a painter becomes a true painter after 60 and a poet becomes a true poet after 70. He showed how great it is to become an artist,” Kim said during a press conference before the opening of his solo exhibition at Gallery Hyundai in Seoul last week.

“Looking back on my younger days, I don’t think I had any idea what I was doing when I was in my 20s and 30s. I began to realize what I was doing after turning 40 and the essence of art when I reached 50. Things my grandfather said were correct,” said Kim.

Defying stereotypes of aging artists, Kim presents new paintings that are as large as 2 to 5 meters in width. The paintings that portray tangled ivy and weeds give off a vibrant energy from the mix of different plants. 
“Summer” by Kim Chong-hak. (Gallery Hyundai)
“Summer” by Kim Chong-hak. (Gallery Hyundai)

“I can’t draw what I used to draw in my 40s and 50s. I can’t draw something moving fast and I shouldn’t. There are paintings that a 70-year-old artist can create. Artists should not try to copy what they used to draw when they were in their 40s and (young),” Kim said.

Along with the paintings, the exhibition shows Kim’s collection of farming tools, which he began to collect in his early 30s.

“I began to buy them because they were not expensive. But they are more than farming tools to me. They have the same aesthetic values I find in sculptures of Rodin and Antonio Caro,” said Kim.

Kim admits the simple and natural beauty of traditional Korean farming tools has guided him to develop his rustic, yet flamboyant painting style.

“Other artists travel to get inspiration for their artworks, but I collect artifacts for inspiration,” he said.

The original wooden planks used to make print works are also on exhibit at Dugahun Gallery adjacent to the main exhibition hall. The wooden print plates feature two faces of a man and woman, or a person’s front and back on both sides, giving them a three-dimensional sculpture-like feel.

“What I haven’t tried is sculpture. Everything in the world eventually disappears, so I want to make them into sculptures,” said Kim.

Kim Chong-hak’s solo exhibition begins on Wednesday and runs through July 7 at Gallery Hyundai, Jongno, Seoul. For more information, call (02) 2287-3500.

By Lee Woo-young (