On Paper, a Hanji Artist Cannot Be Surpassed

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On Paper, a Hanji Artist Cannot Be Surpassed

Of various kinds of paper, hanji, or traditional Korean paper made from the paper mulberry tree (dak-namu) is considered the best because it looks simple yet classy. The paper is well-known for its outstanding durability, and there there is even an expression in Korean, "Hanji lasts for 1000 years, whereas silk lasts for 500 years." In the past, Koreans made good use of hanji's strength and used it to make a wide variety of goods, including shoes, boxes, wash basins and jars, as well as some typical paper products such as window paper, fans and books. The fact that hanji was easy to mold was another reason the material was so popular in the past.

The traditional material, with its singular texture and delicate color, is once again becoming a favorite medium for Korean artists and craftsmen to express their inspiration. This fall, you can appreciate some interesting works made of hanji at several art galleries in Seoul, including Galerie Bhak, Sun Gallery and Pyo Gallery.

Galerie Bhak, located in Cheongdam-dong, opens an exhibition of hanji artwork by Ham Sup on Friday. Mr. Ham, who used to be a painter, stopped using paints and brushes in 1981. Instead, he has focused on using just hanji, colored with natural dyes.

The works currently on display include a series titled "Day Dream." He created those abstracts by beating and mashing wet pieces of hanji and pasting the material on a canvas to give the impression of a faded mural painting. Most of the works have an ocher base color, and thus look cozy and archaic.

"What is so superior about hanji," said Mr. Ham, "is that it makes people feel comfortable when they look at it, because it embraces people's gaze rather than repel them. Hanji is the one and only material to satisfy my desire to create using original and traditional materials."

Mr. Ham has held exhibitions abroad, including one in San Francisco in 1988 and another in Chicago in 1999; at both exhibitions, his works sold out. He will have more exhibitions abroad this year and visit San Francisco, Cologne and The Netherlands after finishing the current exhibition in Seoul. The exhibition at Galerie Bhak will continue until Sept. 16. For more information, call 02-544-8481.

At Sun Gallery in Insa-dong, you can see a solo exhibition by Rim Hyo until Sept. 18. The exhibition, titled "New Shangri-la" ("Sin-Mongyudowondo"), features various paintings of Mr. Rim who specializes in traditional Korean painting. Since the late 1990s, the artist has produced his own paper to paint on. He buys the pulp of paper mulberry fiber and dyes the pulp himself, making sheets of paper out of the colored fiber paste. He then paints on those sheets with a brush and ink, sometimes adding colors.

The works at Sun Gallery are landscape paintings he produced after he traveled around the country for two years looking for Korean traditional pavilions (jeongja). Mr. Rim said, "Hanji on its own is an art, but when you add natural colors, nothing can match the subtle beauty of the paper." He also said, "I tried to depict the proud spirit of Korean scholars the old pavilions along with the scenic beauty through these works." For more information, call 02-734-0458.

Pyo Gallery in Sinsa-dong features hanji art by the painter Chung Chang-sup. Mr. Jung is also a long-time enthusiast of traditional paper and makes the most use of its unique texture in his work. "My work can be defined as the process of melting my spirit into the texture of the hanji," Mr. Chung said. The exhibition will continue till Sept. 25. For more information, call 02-543-7337.

by Cho Hyun-wook

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