“Mountains 3” by Aoife Casey
The mountains are a popular retreat for those looking to escape the city in Korea, but for those who wish to escape to the countryside this winter without braving the bracing winds, an expat exhibition provides one solution.
Curated by expat artist Martyn Thompson, “Mountains” features six artists from as many countries and runs at Gallery i in Seoul’s Insa-dong until Saturday.
“What attracts me to the mountains more than anything is that it’s an escape. People in Korea, they work like crazy, they just want to get away from computers and the office and everything. They just want to relax at the weekend,” Thompson said of the theme.
Thompson, who is involved in the International Artists Community here and the Professional Artists’ Network Korea, used these networks to seek submissions of work on the mountain theme, accompanying the call with a Korean poem called “Cheongsan Byeolgok.”
“It was written several hundred years ago, but it talks about escaping the city life to find peace in the mountains,” said Thompson.
He said he wanted to use this as a prompt, but chose the theme deliberately to encourage artists to think about mountains and their relevance in Korean culture, adding that their physical presence made them a striking feature of Korea.
“With the Baekdu Daegan running down the spine of the country, it’s very hard to get away from them. Seoul is also built in the center of four mountains,” he pointed out.
Thompson is not one of the main artists showing at the exhibition, but traces of his work can still be seen there, in tape on the walls left from a performance art piece he did during the reception. The Chinese characters for the cardinal points of north, east, south and west are put up on the walls, while a line of tape traces a series of peaks representing a scenic journey between the artworks.
The artworks themselves are a mix of media, including color-rich photography from Joe Wabe that looks at mountains as a mother figure, and photo overlays of portraits and Korean landscapes by Aoife Casey used as a method of conversing with oneself.
There are also paintings of Swiss mountains by Kwangsung Hong, painted in situ and transported to Korea, a pen and ink mountain triptych by Joseph Reyes, and pen drawings that look at the relationship between camera lenses and mountain temples by Jurgen Dunhofen.
Finally, John Shrader took inspiration from “Cheongsan Byeolgok” and its similarities to sentiments about mountains in Ireland to inform his paintings, which seek to “connect nature and the divine.”
After success with last year’s Christmas-period exhibition on the relationship between humans and animals, Thompson has an agreement with the gallery to provide an exhibition at this time each year.
The good relationship with the gallery has opened other doors for expat artists, with the owner taking local photographer Loren Rudisuela to the Hong Kong Art Fair this year and some of Thompson’s work to the Seoul Art Fair in Coex, which starts Wednesday.
“It’s a good opportunity for her to meet new artists that she can present these shows and have a different take on it to the Korean artists that are usually the majority exhibiting, and obviously it is good for the artists to have a bit of publicity as well outside of our usual exhibiting spaces,” he said.
By Paul Kerry (firstname.lastname@example.org