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[Herald Interview] Bang Ui-geol brings ink wash paintings to immersive digital museum

“Showers I” by Bang Ui-geol (Courtesy of the artist)
“Showers I” by Bang Ui-geol (Courtesy of the artist)

An ink wash painting shows rain coming down through a mostly black-and-white forest. Though a still image, 84-year-old painter Bang Ui-geol’s “Showers I,” seems to bring the misty scene to life, evoking the sounds of heavy raindrops hitting trees and a gurgling valley stream.

Bang has devoted his whole life to ink wash paintings, known as “sumukhwa,” that are created with black ink and brush. The different concentrations of black ink create distances and a profound, mysterious atmosphere. Some paintings have watercolors added ever so lightly.

Ink wash paintings, which started to flourish during the Joseon era, are now done in a variety of styles. Bang, who finds inspiration in nature and adds imagination to his paintings, developed a style of his own, telling his story through art.

“Ink has its own deep and subdued flavor,” the artist said during an interview with The Korea Herald in late May. “That is because ink permeates into hanji (Korean traditional mulberry paper); it is different from oil color paintings. When you paint with oil colors on a canvas, you literately ‘paint,’ but ink permeates after you leave it for hours.”

“It seems to permeate (into hanji) a thousand miles deep,” he added. 

“Forest I” by Bang Ui-geol (Courtesy of the artist)
“Forest I” by Bang Ui-geol (Courtesy of the artist)

Bang has collaborated with Arte Museum, Jeju Island, an immersive media art museum founded by digital design company d’strict, for the exhibition “Light in Time, Bang Ui-Geol” that kicked off June 22 in the museum’s garden area. The 263-square-meter zone currently shows four exhibitions, including Bang’s, where his ink wash paintings are turned into immersive media art.

When he was offered a chance to collaborate with a digital design company for the immersive exhibition, he accepted because he saw a chance to show people how fascinating ink wash paintings are.

“It was an adventure, but it is up to the viewers who come to the museum and appreciate my work. I don’t want to be selective about how my work should be presented,” he said. “I made sure to maintain the original vision of ink wash paintings as much as possible, although they are presented digitally.” 

At the exhibition in Arte Museum, digital raindrops burst against the towering screens erected in the cavernous hall displaying the media art inspired by Bang’s painting. The immersive technology, along with the sounds of rain and music that amplifies the imagination, makes one feel as if they are caught in the rain while strolling through a forest. 

An installation view of “Light in Time, Bang Ui-Geol” at Arte Museum on Jeju Island (D’strict)
An installation view of “Light in Time, Bang Ui-Geol” at Arte Museum on Jeju Island (D’strict)

Rain is often featured as a central theme in Bang’s paintings because he loves the wet weather.

“There are many different kinds of rain,” Bang said. “There is rain that I would want to walk through endlessly and get soaked. Light, gentle light rain is also good. I love the sound of raindrops falling on a tin roof.”

Bang said it was when he turned 60 that he finally realized the beauty of ink wash paintings. Although the color of ink seems quite dark, it holds all the colors.

“You notice the colors of red, blue and yellow easily. But the color of ink is different,” he said. “People are attracted to things that are visually stimulating and do not try to know how beautiful ink wash paintings are.”

“But now I truly know the beauty of ink wash paintings. I would not change my journey as an ink wash painter no matter how much money was offered,” he said. 

Bang Ui-geol (Courtesy of the artist)
Bang Ui-geol (Courtesy of the artist)


By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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