[FOUNTAIN]An artistic saint remembered

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[FOUNTAIN]An artistic saint remembered

There are few honorifics like "chihwaseon," the title given to Jang Seung-up, a late Joseon Dynasty painter who lived from 1843 to 1897. The term translates roughly as a painter whose craftsmanship is equal to that of a divine being and who can draw paintings even better when he is drunk. Painters were sometimes degraded and called a "painting fellow," but also respected as a "saint of painting." The painter who reached the stage of a "divine being" must be at a higher state of accomplishment. Even strong drink cannot dull his heaven-sent talent.

Im Kwon-taek, a film director, named his movie about Mr. Jang with a title that gives high esteem to the hero.

There are few records left of the brilliant painter, even though he died only a century ago, and what we do know is mostly about his fondness for strong drink. He held a painting brush in his hand only when he was completely drunk. When pretty hostesses attended him drinking, he seemed to be stirred by his creative energy. He got sotted, took off his shirt and then inspiration always seemed to strike.

"With a stroke of the brush as fast as a flash of lightning, black ink shone and the coloring was intimate. In the middle of the picture, mysterious and elegant sensations arise," was how Mr. Jang's are was described by O Sae-chang, one of the 33 signatories of the March 1 Independence Declaration proclaimed in 1919 and the author of a book on Korean art history.

In addition to Mr. Jang's genius, the painter's search for the truth attracted the director. In the film, Mr. Jang wanders around restlessly. When his master's daughter, whom he loved in his youth, died, Mr. Jang disappeared, leaving behind a picture of a red-crested white crane. In his middle years, he realized his own talent as a painter when he found a painting he had finished while drunk. After that incident, he left his home, and in his later years, Mr. Jang vanished at dawn leaving clothes he received as presents, even though Maehyang, a hostess and his lifetime lover, wanted to live with him forever.

The lack of data about Mr. Jang gave the director some room to use his imagination; Mr. Im tried to show his own artistic soul and passion for artistic mastery through Mr. Jang. Recently he decided to trim parts of his film to attract a broader audience; he cut several erotic scenes to make it suitable for younger viewers. The re-edited version of the film "Chihwaseon" has opened again in more than 50 theaters. The spiritual interchange between the two great masters will be shown again.

The writer is popular culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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