Underground venture shows figures from the past can still draw stares--If you suddenly find yourself in need of a painted portrait, then Hoo Am Atelier is the place to go in central Seoul.
In the middle of the New Seoul Subway Arcade, an underground shopping center that runs between the City Hall subway station and the Euljiro 1-ga station, the shop, whose windows are decorated with the portraits of celebrities, grabs the attention of even the busiest passersby.
Take a peek inside and you will find a man in his 50s, with brush in hand and a smoldering cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.
“I have been running this shop for 30 years now,” says Kim Jin-sam. Before opening his portrait business, Mr. Kim worked for what is now the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, painting portraits of then President Syngman Rhee.
The shop is packed with portraits of historical figures, like Rhee, U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur, John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe.
These are samples for customers. They are not for sale, though Mr. Kim says he is always willing to entertain offers. “Usually customers come for their self-portraits or bring a photograph to have it transformed into a painting,” he says.
The size of the paintings range from 33 by 24 centimeters (13 by 9.4 inches) to 162 by 130 centimeters and cost from 240,000 won ($205) to 600,000 won.
Mr. Kim also gives private painting lessons, which take place five days a week, two hours each day. The lessons cost 150,000 won per month. Although his students are mostly married women in their 30s, some are much older. One student is 74.
“Back in the old days, I would get a few students in their 20s, but these days they do not seem to have the patience for this work.”
“Portraiture is a distinct form of art,” Mr. Kim says. “I have dedicated my whole life to painting portraits, but still I have not mastered it.”
Hoo Am Atelier
311 New Seoul Subway Arcade
Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
by Park Eun-sil