Living another life in a life Confronting the world with rice paper and seogak

신태섭 기자l승인2020.02.24l수정2020.02.24 09:57

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▲ Seogak artist Boksu Kim

An art work sheds a light after contemplation of the things the artist tries to deliver to the world. Calligraphy and seogak (wood carving) in South Korea in this regard takes a considerable amount of time and effort as each brushwork and carving requires a mental strength and a physical endurance to complete a work. For many calligraphers and seogak artists, it is important to make their mind clean and clear before grabbing the brush or knife. 

A brush instead of a broom

People in Korean art world often call Boksu Kim as the artist who took a brush instead of a broom. Kim earns bread and butter as a street cleaner in Donghae City. Finishing his duty and going back home, he puts up a brush without fail. Thinking of him as being a street cleaner and an artist at the same time gave me blurred image on the way to meet him for interview. But this blurred image disappeared at once at the first site for he surely looks like an artist standing in front of his works lined up. 

“It’s been 25 years since I fist grabbed a brush and walked the lonely path. I found a totally different world in literary painting in which I found about myself and picture the time of my past and future. I feel like I’m living another life in a life in my works.” – Artist’s note –

Crossing the limitless time and space

Art for him is not a world of something grand but a life in a life. Kim had done all kinds of jobs to earn bread and butter from truck driver to sailor before settling down as a street cleaner which has carried on for the last 15 years. It was 25 years ago that he first opened his eyes to the world of calligraphy and that year was the harshest in his life, Kim remembers. The harsher the life became, the stronger he wrote the letters and carved images on wood. 

“I believe this maxim: practice makes perfect. If I add one more thing, one must continue the research for finding oneself. I worked during the day and grabbed a brush or knife during the night. I wrote and carved like crazy. It felt like I was walking alone a desert. When I encountered an oasis, it means I completed a work. I quenched my thirst at the oasis and set out for new one.”

Powerful yet smooth and delicate touch of lines

“A knife is but a brush and a brush a knife. I must make sure that the soul of the knife is melted in a work that should be clothed with appropriate colors at the finish. For me, the colors of a seogak are same as the clothes we wear in spring, summer, autumn and winter.”

For this reason, Kim’s strokes give strong yet smooth and delicate touch of lines. These are well presented in his works <Scent of Mountain>, <Apricot Flower> and <At the Riverside>. Appreciating his works, one might never imagine he is a street cleaner. 

Winning prizes

Kim has been well received in a number of art awards: the top prize at the 35th Grand Art Exhibition of Korea in the literary painting, a special prize at the 2016 Grand Art Exhibition of Korea in the literary painting, selected for the Grand Korea Calligraphy Exhibition, and a special prize at the Gwangwon Calligraphy and Literary Painting and Woodcarving Competition in the calligraphy. 

“Having achieved a number of prizes, I now wish to spare a time for fostering talented young artists alongside deepening my own art world. The trend of art might change time to time but artist’s soul never changes.”

When asked about future plan, Kim said that he wanted to open an art gallery where all artist groups share hearts and exhibit their works. 


신태섭 기자  tss79@naver.com
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