The Korea Herald


British artist brings two celebrated Korean writers into his world

By Lee Woo-young

Published : May 23, 2012 - 19:34

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 Artist highlights writers’ artistic agonies and sufferings mixed with his own

The multi-talented British artist Billy Childish sheds new light on two prominent Korean writers of Korea’s modern literature, Yi Kwang-su and Yi Sang, at his first exhibition in Seoul.

“I wanted to make some paintings that related directly to the people who would be coming to see the exhibition,” Childish said at the opening event for his exhibition “Strange Bravery” in Seoul on May 11.
British artist Billy Childish poses for a photo in front of his painting “Frozen Estuary-River Roach” at Gallery Hyundai in Seoul (Gallery Hyundai) British artist Billy Childish poses for a photo in front of his painting “Frozen Estuary-River Roach” at Gallery Hyundai in Seoul (Gallery Hyundai)

Studying the two writers’ literary works and life, Childish has translated the writers’ artistic agonies into portraits. Childish, who has performed under many names during his career, has captured the suffering the two writers might have endured during the turbulent years of the late Joseon period and the Japanese colonial era between the late 1890s and 1945.

“Yi Kwang-su’s life seems to be very much like that of some important European writers who have been at first uplifted, then dropped for their supposed collaboration with an occupying enemy ― I’m thinking of L.F. Celine, and Knut Hamsun in particular. I love those writers, and Yi Kwang-su seems to be a parallel,” Childish said. 
Yi Kwang-su Yi Kwang-su

Yi Kwang-su is famous for his novel “Heartless,” regarded as Korea’s first modern work of fiction. But he was at the same time criticized as pro-Japanese during Japanese rule.

Yi Sang, a poet and novelist, is considered one of the most innovative writers in modern Korean literature.

“I know Yi Sang painted as well as studying architecture and being a poet unrecognized in his time,” Childish said. 
Yi Sang in Fedora (Billy Childish/Neugerriemschneider) Yi Sang in Fedora (Billy Childish/Neugerriemschneider)

Based on the writers’ old photos, Childish brought the two writers back to life in his own interpretation mixed with his own memories of childhood abuse and alcoholism.

“While the artist spells out the agonies and sufferings of the literates who had confronted the grim at the beginning of the 1900s, he attempts to abstract the stories of all those who suffer from his works,” Kang So-jung, exhibition manager at Gallery Hyundai wrote in an introduction to the exhibition.

Childish’s art is reminiscent of the works of Edward Munch and Vincent Van Gogh, whom Childish considers the two greatest figures of art world.

His works are also seen as spontaneous and resistant to the art trend of the time, which reflect Childish’s own personality.

He led the international art movement called Stuckism in 1999 against conceptual art and advocated figurative painting. But he left the movement shortly thereafter.

“I was briefly a member of the Stuckists’ formal formation in 1999, and I was the instigator of the manifestoes. I left the Stuckists shortly afterwards because I felt they didn’t represent what I was talking about in the manifestoes,” Childish said.

During the course of his multifaceted career, he has defied categorization.

Childish has released more than 100 albums as a musician and published 30 pieces of poetry as a dyslexic poet.

He was expelled from St. Martin’s School of Art for refusing to visit galleries and exhibitions.

His first exhibition in Korea is titled “Strange Bravery,” a phrase which Childish borrowed from one of his favorite writers.

It also reflects his art philosophy, that is, to keep his fluid and immediate nature against the mainstream art.

“To do something for the sake of doing it in the face of disinterest ― and against the odds, requires ‘a strange bravery.’ To follow my star when everyone told me I was heading in the wrong direction has been the course of my life,” he said.

“Strange Bravery” runs through June 3 at Gallery Hyundai in Jongno, Seoul.

By Lee Woo-young  (