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Happiness and sorrows of Dongpirang carved into paintings

Tongyeong-based artist Kim Jae-sin gains attention with sculptural pictures portraying his hometown

TONGYEONG, South Gyeongsang Province ― Artist Kim Jae-sin mostly paints Dongpirang, a village in his hometown Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, located on the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula.

While many local artists try to capture what’s unique in their hometowns, the landscape images the 53-year-old artist creates resonate with memories ― the happiness and sorrow Dongpirang holds from its early development as the poorest community in the area to the new face it gained as an artistic town with colorful murals.

Born and raised in Tongyeong, Kim said the neighborhood, which sits on the eastern cliff of the small coastal city, gave him a feeling of warmth.

“It’s the first place where the sun shines early in the morning. When I was young, I thought the neighborhood must be the warmest place in the town,” said Kim during an interview with The Korea Herald last Wednesday at his studio in Tongyeong.
Artist Kim Jae-sin works on a new painting at his studio in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province. (Lee Woo-young/The Korea Herald)
Artist Kim Jae-sin works on a new painting at his studio in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province. (Lee Woo-young/The Korea Herald)

“But when I visited the town, the poor condition in which the residents were living was a shock,” Kim added.

Kim’s portrayal of Dongpirang caught the attention of the Korean art world because of his distinctive depiction of Dongpirang and the port city of Tongyeong.

His “Dongpirang” series portrays the steep hills and narrow alleys of the area, which overlooks the azure sea, sparkling with sunlight reflected on the waves. He simplifies the maze-like town by limiting his subjects ― just the sea, houses and the sky. But the seemingly simple composition is filled with sculptural elements found in carved spots that portray the beautiful landscape. 
“Dongpirang Story” by Kim Jae-sin. (Kim Jae-sin)
“Dongpirang Story” by Kim Jae-sin. (Kim Jae-sin)

“The place itself is a work of art,” he said.

He held his first exhibition in 2005, but it was only last year that he was introduced in Seoul.

“I was on the verge of giving up painting because I didn’t know whether what I was doing was right. But then the opportunity came unexpectedly. A director of Pyeongchang Gallery visited my small exhibition in Tongyeong and proposed holding an exhibition in Seoul,” he said.

His Seoul exhibition in May was a success ― most of his works were sold ― and the gallery extended the exhibition period from 10 days to a month.

In search of a new style distinct from other artists, Kim employs sculptural elements by carving into hardened layers of paint.

Kim places 20-30 layers of acrylic paint mixed with gesso, a white paint mixture, onto a wooden board. When it hardens, he carves houses, water ripples and other objects into the mixture, revealing layers of different colors.

His painting process resembles sculpture: Kim doesn’t use brushes, but just a concrete spreading tool to place layers of paint on the wooden board and sculpting tools.

“When I finished my first solo exhibition in 2005, I thought deeply about whether I should do what other artists were doing. And there was a carving knife sitting next to a painting that I didn’t do well. I started to carve the surface of the paint and it looked just right,” he said.

Kim’s next exhibition will be held in Gwangju in September, followed by more exhibitions in major cities including Seoul at the end of the year.

By Lee Woo-young  (wylee@heraldcorp.com)
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