Visitor's sketches bring memories, exhibition, book

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Visitor's sketches bring memories, exhibition, book

Wherever Claude Rahir goes, he carries his travel diary in his right pocket and a MonAmi calligraphy pen in his left.

His travel diary is filled with memories of Korea ?sketches and words. A monk walking through Insa-dong. A woman nodding off to sleep in the subway, slowly leaning her head on the shoulder of the guy next to her. A mother rubbing noses with a baby. A girl looking at her new shoes. Mr. Rahir records them all.

"When I look through my travel diary, I immediately remember the smells and the moment," said Mr. Rahir, an artist from Belgium. He has visited Korea at least 15 times, beginning in the late '80s to design a mural for the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea in Gwacheon, and later to backpack through areas such as Jinju, Gyeongju and Mount Seorak.

He is now in Korea for an exhibition at Chohung Gallery near the Koreana Hotel in downtown Seoul, and for the publication of his book, "Claude's Life and Dreams," by Mannam Publishing. Sketches and French and Korean text make up the book. His works have been shown in France, Italy, Bolivia, Japan and Korea.

To Mr. Rahir, Korea is an adventure. His oil painting "Sejong" is based on the invention of the Korean alphabet. Mr. Rahir took liberties with the tale, creating his own version, a love story.

According to Mr. Rahir's version, King Sejong looked out his window and caught some servants holding hands in the garden. The couple told him, "We cannot write letters of love," which set the king in a search for a written language so they could express their love.

When Mr. Rahir first told his father he was interested in art, his father said, "Art is not serious work." Dejected, the university student tried to come up with a different future plan. Moping, he met a friend for drinks at a cafe.

The friend heard his story and said, "Do you remember when my father died of cancer? He lay in his deathbed, crying. When my brother and I asked him not to cry, Papa replied, 'I don't cry for my death. I cry because I wanted to be a great architect, but my father refused me.'"

When Mr. Rahir heard this story, he thought, If I don't win, it doesn't matter because I know I tried. He told his father, "Papa, I love you, but good-bye," and set out to make his dream come true.

At the age of 65, he says he is content. "If my father saw me here in Seoul and how happy I am, I'm sure he'd be happy."

The exhibition continues until Monday. For more information, call Chohung Gallery at 02-738-6806.

by Joe Yong-hee

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