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Artist Kim Sung-ho presents contemporary ‘chaekgeori’ depicting desires

“Volume tower - Retrotopia” by Kim Sung-ho (Park Ryu Sook Gallery)
“Volume tower - Retrotopia” by Kim Sung-ho (Park Ryu Sook Gallery)

Artist Kim Sung-ho uses books as the main objects for his art, believing that they have helped build up his own world. The 40-year-old painter came up with the concept of a stack of books called “volume tower” that he pursues using hyperrealism.

The artist is presenting a new volume tower series inspired by “chaekgeori” - Korea’s traditional paintings that depict books, a variety of scholars’ ornaments and fruits displayed on bookshelves -- at Park Ryu Sook Gallery in Seoul. The exhibition “Asking the Existence of Painting with Painting” runs through March 28.

“You may run into it naturally if you keep doing what you are interested in rather than struggling to ‘find’ something,” Kim said, speaking about finding one‘s own subject matter. He said he had found his identity through books, reminiscing that the books used to surround him as if they were giving the artist an answer to the question “What to paint?” 

Installation view of “Asking the Existence of Painting with Painting” (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)
Installation view of “Asking the Existence of Painting with Painting” (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

“Chaekgeori” refers to a unique genre of Korean painting that proliferated in the Joseon era (1392-1910), depicting books and other assorted items on bookshelves. Literally translated as “books and things,“ the genre originated from court paintings but the paintings were later widely enjoyed by the public, as they came to be regarded as minhwa, which refers to folk painting. Chaekgeori as a genre began to develop during the reign of King Jeongjo, the 22nd king of Joseon, who ruled the country from 1776 to 1800.

Kim got the idea for his new works from the book “Retrotopia” written by Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017), in which the author suggests the concept of “Retrotopia,” presenting the urge to rectify the failings of the present human condition. 

"Volume tower - Retrotopia” by Kim Sung-ho (Park Ryu Sook Gallery)

“I agreed with many points in the book. The author’s perspectives on the contemporary era about human desires and the prevailing tendency to return to nationalism around the globe, for example.” Kim said. “I thought about how I could present my thoughts inspired by the book. Then I came up with chaekgeori because it perfectly shows the human desires of the time (Joseon era), depicting books and other things that people of that time cherished.”

Kim also added a variation to his new volume tower series, creating a 3D effect by having a silky bookmark come out of a wooden canvas.

“I thought about how I could give some different points from my previous paintings and added a bookmark that appears across the canvas encompassing the painting as a whole.”

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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