Art Local

A conversation with Artist Nam-kyung Bae and “Wintery Days”

There aren’t many contemporary artist that I truly admire. As I get older, I find it rare that I am moved by someone’s art.

Today I visited Nam-kyung Bae’s studio. She was in a doctorate program at Seoul National University when I was doing MFA. I have always learned a lot from talking with her.

At her studio, we met in six years. She showed me her working process with water-based woodblock printmaking. Over the years she developed unprecedented technique: combining planographic printing with relief printing. The process yields an image with painterly depth as opposed to the hard-edge flatness of conventional woodblock prints.  The unique technique reflects her not-compromising attitude towards art.  Her voice was a wake up call to my rusted artist self.

Nam-kyung says she thinks her art is not hers only, (this is a literal translation from Korean to English. I think something is lost in translation) and there is a problem when the artist is confused and believes the work is his or her own.  Indeed, art belongs to the realm of truth, and artist can not and should not compromise his or her art due to life situations.

Going back to my opening statement, why is it hard for me to find contemporary art that moves me? I think it is because most artists do compromise. An artist faces social and financial pressures in her daily living; among many, the greatest inhibitor is the desire to be successful. I am talking about myself. How many hours do we invest in making fancy websites, blogs, and facebook pages? I recently spent $79 to upgrade my WordPress theme. I am not saying an artist should be a anti-technology recluse, but I do believe that for an artist, creating art should his or her first priority.

Having said all this, I am not sure if I can be an artist in its truest sense. It could cost one’s entire life and no financial or social return is guaranteed. The only value is in the act of living true to one’s calling perhaps. For me, it is the hardest thing to do.

Nam-kyung told me about her experience of encountering a piece of art that carries truth, goodness, and beauty. Seeing the work, she said, was like seeing the light that traveled two hundred years to reach her. The work she described to me was an ink painting of a scholar/calligrapher Jung-hee Kim. It is a picture of an evergreen pinetree on a wintry day. Kim created the picture while he was living in an exile to send it to his beloved former student. The artist has bestowed his spirit, his unbending determination upon the pine trees of a wintry day.

wintry days

“Wintry Days” Junghee Kim, 23 X69.2 cm, 1844, National Museum of Korea


I have always loved this painting as well. It is a pity I have never seen it in person. When I look at the image, my heart aches, and it is this feeling I seek, when I view art.
“Wintry Days” overlapped with what Nam-kyung told me today, I have a clearer understanding of what art means to me- not as a means to achieve fame and financial gain, but art that reflects truth.


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