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(Yonhap Interview) Artist seeks eternity in a fleeting moment

2017/11/09 16:36

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By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, Nov. 9 (Yonhap) -- Artist Lee Dong-su is best known for his earthenware bowl paintings, such as a bowl that looks as if it is captured at the very moment when it's spinning in mid-air against a pitch-black background.

But he doesn't create paintings about bowls, Lee said. He has been trying to seize the moment when a lifeless, still object exudes -- paradoxically -- the fullness of life and vitality.

"I want to capture a moment of serenity and, at the same time, a moment of movement however brief that is. I see eternity there and then," Lee said, rather philosophically, during an interview with Yonhap News Agency Wednesday.

This image provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017, shows "Flow-Bowl" from 2014. This image provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017, shows "Flow-Bowl" from 2014.

This undated photo provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017 is of the artist himself. (Yonhap) This undated photo provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017 is of the artist himself. (Yonhap)

Born the youngest child of nine, he grew up in a small farming village in Yangyang County, 215 kilometers east of Seoul. Growing up, he liked doodling and vaguely knew he had a knack for painting. But he never thought he would become a painter until his high school teacher suggested he enter a local painting competition.

Unable to get financial support from his poor family, he spent years in Seoul in working as a manual laborer in places like a bag factory and an oriental medicine store to study art and earn enough to go to university.

"I was happy because I could paint. I painted when I had money. I worked when I ran out of money. Although I found the process hard, I was confident that I could do it."

  

This image provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017, shows "Flow-Book" from 2014. This image provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017, shows "Flow-Book" from 2014.

After four years of studying and painting while doing odd jobs, he enrolled in the fine art department at Hongik University, one of the best art schools in Korea. He even managed to earn his Master's there. After he graduated, however, a cold realization hit him that painting rigorously and diligently alone didn't guarantee him success as an artist.

"I was naive in believing a master's from Hongik would be all I needed. There were simply so many other factors at play. I had to make personal connections with professors and art critics, and I needed money to get part-time teaching jobs in universities and so forth," he said. "Besides, I had a family to take care of."

   Eventually he left Seoul and returned to his rural hometown.

A sense of defeat and resignation swept him. For about six months, he suffered from depression, as he had to give up what he loved to do in order to make a living.

For a few years, he taught painting at an art institute. Around 2007 when he had saved enough for his family to get by for a while, he resumed painting full-time. His passion for painting had simply been there all those years, waiting to be rekindled again.

This image provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017, shows "Flow-Bowl" from 2012. This image provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017, shows "Flow-Bowl" from 2012.

This image provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017, shows his recent painting of a traditional Korean musical instrument. (Yonhap) This image provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017, shows his recent painting of a traditional Korean musical instrument. (Yonhap)

So far, he has participated in many international art fairs including "Scope Basel," "Art Stage Singapore" and "Context Miami."

   A breakthrough came at "Art Paris Art Fair" in March 2013 when he sold five pieces of his paintings less than three hours after the VIP opening. They were his first sales ever in overseas art fairs.

"For the two years up until the fair, I hadn't been able to sell a single painting. But collectors swarmed in front of my paintings at 'Art Paris Art Fair' as if they had been ordered to do so by some invisible forces," he recalled. It was all the more encouraging for him, since he had promised to his wife that the fair would be his last overseas attempt to prove his marketability.

Set to attend Art Miami in December and hold a solo exhibition at Dongsanbang Gallery in Seoul sometime in late February or early March, Lee hopes to delicately convey Korean charm, sensibility and aesthetic values through his paintings.

"April Showers bring May flowers. It sounds like a cliche but that is the lesson I learned from my life."

  

This image provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017, shows "Flow-Bowl" from 2015. This image provided by painter Lee Dong-su on Nov. 9, 2017, shows "Flow-Bowl" from 2015.

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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