|▲ Calligrapher and seogak artist Kim Ju-yeon|
Seogak is a traditional Korean art form that a caver carves letters and images on a wooden log. Historically, seogak has been closely linked with calligraphy since carvers carve letter written in calligraphy. The difference, however, is that while calligraphy is two dimensional, seogak is three dimensional. For this reason, many calligraphers are doing seogak alongside. Yet it is hard to find calligraphers who are excellent in both arts.
Kim Ju-yeon is a calligrapher and a seogak artist who obtained a master’s title in seogak and who gained fame for his unique ‘Hosan style’ in calligraphy (Hosan is her nickname). In 2017, the Federation of Artistic & Cultural Organization of Korea approved Kim as a ‘master seogak artist’. As if to prove it, she won the presidential prize at the 19th International Calligraphy Style Exhibition and the Culture, Sports and Tourism minister’s prize at the 53rd Daehyeon Yulgok Writing Style Competition.
Kim opened the Kim Ju Yeon Traditional Art Transmission Academy in Yongin City. It was quite surprising for me to see this woman seemingly in her early 40 to be a master seogak artist and a famous calligrapher.
When Kim was 9 years old, her father took her hands one day to go to a calligraphy academy. I myself once learned calligraphy around that age but I gave up in 6 months. It might have been too hard for a 9 year old boy to exert such a concentration for each stroke of words. For Kim, the word ‘hard’ did not seem to apply as she remembers back “The words appeared on the ceiling when I laid down myself on bed to sleep at night.”
“Ever since my father grabbed my hand to a calligraphy academy, calligraphy has been the center of my life. We were not a well-to-do family so it was such a burden for me to buy tools such as Korean papers and brushes and all that. But I thought about it most of the time. I even taught calligraphy and Chinese in part time when in university to carry on my passion.”
It was when Kim was in high school that she opened her eye to the charm of the world of seogak. Her high calligraphy teacher did seogak though not mastery but it was enough to make this young student enchanted by carving the letters onto a wood board.
“I traveled a lot to find seogak artists as there was a certain limitation to learn the skills by myself. I built the necessarily techniques gradually and became able to add my own styles. It was great to see that people finally started to recognize my styles, and one after another, the orders were made to me.”
The signboard hung at Balwang Temple and the engraving of ‘Jo seon yeon ye sa’ (SBS drama title meaning Joseon Romance) remain probably as the two most popular works of Kim for many ordinary people.
The life changing event took placed in her 20s when she saw by chance the works of master seogak artist Sim Jeong-bo on SNS. The meeting of Sim and Kim created a great synergy and Kim learned cutting edge skills and souls of seogak art under the instruction of Sim. The years of learning and teaching developed as the pupil and the teacher relationship, and the relationship today has become more like ‘fellow artists’.
“Letters have their souls and vitalities. And the souls and the vitalities become bigger through the execution of seogak. It is truly charming that seogak leaves the traces of knives and hammers as they are even after the completion of the work. And I feel overwhelmed that I carve the letters I write. Whenever I appreciate my seogak works, I just can’t help being happiest!”
At the Kim Ju Yeon Traditional Art Transmission Academy, we can learn calligraphy, seogak and Chinese characters. Everybody is welcome regardless their age or sex. The courses are open for as little as 6 years old to senior citizens and those whose dream is to be a calligrapher or a seogak artist. It is notable that some children learn calligraphy and seogak and even obtain the first grade Chinese character certificate under the attention to detail instruction of Kim.
Recently, calligraphy – not traditional but pen writing – is booming on SNS in South Korea. Numerous courses and lessons are being offered. How can we interpret this same word but different meanings? I would like to say that calligraphy in traditional term is the art itself but calligraphy on SNS term is rather more trendy and commercial. It is notable, however, that many of the latter categorized calligraphers are originally the traditional calligraphers.
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