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[ZOOM KOREA] Painter mixes pop art with Korean tradition:

Jan 06,2020
Painter Kim Joong-sik, often dubbed a double pop artist, paints in his studio in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi. Kim’s works are easily identifiable thanks to the many tiny dots he uses to make up beautiful images. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Mona Lisa’s subtle smile overlaps with a drawing of a traditional Korean white porcelain jar from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

The two starkly different drawings - a woman from the Renaissance period and the traditional white porcelain - make a unique combination by transcending time and space with the strokes of pop artist Kim Joong-sik.

Against the white porcelain jar, often dubbed a moon jar for its resemblance to a full moon, all walks of life are portrayed.

The West meets East, the past is connected to the present and tradition coexists with modernity in works by Kim.

Inside the spacious Kim Joong-sik Art Museum that overlooks the Bukhan River in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi, Kim’s artworks cover the walls.

Audrey Hepburn; Mother Teresa; Kim Koo, a Korean nationalist politician; actors Lee Byung-hun and Jun Ji-hyun; and the former presidents of Korea adorn the moon jars. All the figures are so realistically depicted that they look like they are about to walk out of the canvases.

Kim, a pointillism artist, creates his objects out of tiny dots. His drawings often create an optical illusion as if there are two different images on a single canvas.

Art critic Yoon Woo-hak once said, “Kim creates double imageries in a single frame.” Because of this, the critic describes Kim’s works as “double pop art.”


Kim Joong-sik works on his video installation work using an electric drill. [PARK SANG-MOON]
Kim was talented at drawing ever since he was young. After completing his mandatory military service, he left for Paris in 1985 to pursue studies in art.

Kim went on to the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts and Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. Until he returned home in 1995, he met a lot of experienced Korean painters there and was able to learn about the mindset of a painter from them.

He spent three years learning from painter Kim Chang-yeol. While working as an assistant for the veteran painter, Kim came across many famed artists such as Nam June Paik, Park Seo-bo and Lee Ufan in Paris.

Kim Chang-yeol taught Kim what it takes to become a good painter. He used to tell his assistant “Love without expression is of no use.”

The master artist meant that a painter should put his ideas onto canvases instead of keeping thoughts in one’s mind.

After spending 10 years in Paris, Kim returned home and focused on drawing without knowing that he would soon face a crisis that he could have never imagined.

Born and raised in an affluent family, Kim used to receive between 5 million won ($4,300) and 10 million won of financial support from his family each month when he resided in Paris, but his family went bankrupt overnight after his older brother guaranteed somebody’s debt.

Kim had to make a living and eventually ended up working at a construction site. He did any work he could find, from woodworking to wielding to tiling.

He also landed a job at a restaurant located in Bundang District in Gyeonggi. While he was working as a cook, Kim used to draw on the walls of the restaurant from time to time.

One day, Kim Bong-gu, a customer at the restaurant, saw Kim’s drawing of a duck flying from a pond. The late sculptor, who was a professor emeritus at Ewha Womans University, realized the mural was the work of Kim. The professor asked him, “Why are you working in a kitchen instead of drawing?”


Creations by Kim Joong-sik that are called double pop art: a drawing of Marilyn Monroe on a moon jar, left, and Mona Lisa on a moon jar, right. [PARK SANG-MOON]
That question made Kim pick up his paintbrushes again.

Kim gave everything he had to drawing, but nothing came easy. He had an especially difficult time displaying and selling his works at galleries, largely thanks to his long stay in Paris. He had no one who could help him inside the local art community.

Eventually, Kim and his wife loaded all of his works into a small truck and began to promote the drawings by visiting art galleries across the country.

In the beginning, one or two drawings were sold, but eventually, a gallery in Seoul sold out of Kim’s drawings.

With the money earned from selling drawings, Kim secured a warehouse in Garden 5, located in Songpa District, southern Seoul. It was his first studio, but it was very expensive.

Kim had to move 20 times until he found his current museum located in Gapyeong.

It has been a rocky road for Kim to pursue his career, but he credits his ability to endure to his religious beliefs, which he also says inspires his art.

While he was listening to a sermon at church, Kim spotted an LED electronic board that was installed behind the reverend. After some trial and error, Kim created his current format of using tiny dots and the drawing of a moon jar.

For Kim, the white porcelain represents the womb of a woman and also means purity, delight, conception and birth.

With the moon jar, Kim wants to capture joy, jealousy, birth and death on the pottery and embody all the feelings into beautiful pieces of art. By doing so, he conveys love from the moon jars. Just like his artworks, Kim said he wants to live by embracing people around him.

BY PARK SANG-MOON [moonpark@joongang.co.kr]


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