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[Opinion] Great Artist Park Soo-keun

Posted January. 27, 2005 22:59,   


Park Soo-keun (1914-1965) is the most loved painter by Koreans. Gazing at bare trees, a woman with a kit and a short-haired girl in rubber shoes with her little baby brother in quilt on her back that he depicted in monochromes in monotonous tones, we begin to realize the original form of Korean shapes and unknowingly get absorbed in his paintings. The painter with only an elementary school diploma painted about 350 pieces of work in his 51-year-long life. The unique symbolism of his works resembles the granite-like nature and emotions of Korean taste.

His works sometimes were not accepted in national art exhibitions. He even barely maintained his livelihood during the Korean War by painting portraits of U.S. soldiers in PXs. Bare Tree, with which writer Park Wan-seo made her debut on the literary stage after winning the long story award of Yeoseong Dong-A in 1970, had then-Park Soo-keun as a model for its main character. The writer worked as an accountant in a PX at that time. Due to the story, rumors were that the two must have been in love, yet the painter already had a good wife and, for her part, the writer was “in love with someone other than him.”

His works used to sell for a mere 5,000 won per piece when he was alive. Now, each of his postcard-sized work pieces is quoted at more than 100 million won. A few days ago, his work “the Road” was sold for 520 million won in a local auction, the highest price for a modern piece of art. Korean picture dealers reportedly went to the United States and searched for Korean War veterans there in the 1980s when the prices of Park Soo-keun’s paintings started to shoot up.

The monthly magazine “Shindonga” reports in its February issue that his oldest son and oldest grandson are treading their family path as painters for three generations in Sydney, Australia. Just as is the case with offspring of great artists, being offspring of Park Soo-keun has been their pride as well as their yoke. Likewise, there is a saying that even one clump of grass cannot grow well under a gigantic tree. His two offspring do not have any works from the painter Park left, as they had to sell his posthumous works to maintain their livelihood and continue their study. His son said, “Now I’d like to clothe my father’s bare trees.”

Oh Myong-chul, Editorial Writer, oscar@donga.com