Support your neighborhood sketcher

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Support your neighborhood sketcher

If you’re in Itaewon and happen upon some art, Yoon Kwae probably made it. Mr. Yoon is the guy with the curly hair who accosted you at Spy Club last week and asked if he could sketch your portrait.
Mr. Yoon, 30, is also the answer to that question you ask every time you ride the “up” escalator in the Itaewon subway station and wonder who painted those funky, free-spirited murals to your right. Or when you’re at the next station west, Noksapyeong, and see that really huge, really red mural that celebrates the Korean national soccer team and last year’s World Cup.
And remember that life-sized fiberglass cow that greeted you at Itaewon station until it disappeared about half a year ago? Mr. Yoon made that, too.
You can check out more of Mr. Yoon’s art now at two local joints, La Tavola and Seoul Pub, both of which are exhibiting his more conventional work.
At La Tavola, in a couple of Mr. Yoon’s large-canvas numbers, you can see how optimistic and uninhibited his style is, which may explain his prolificacy. In one, a colorful building at Gyeongbok Palace frames an ancient scene on its ancient grounds, telling you it’s the 15th century, while overhead a few helicopters fly, telling you it’s the 21st. Most of the works at La Tavola are likewise fanciful.
“I paint whatever my imagination tells me to,” Mr. Yoon explained. “If I get an idea, I act on it. Otherwise I’ll forget it.”
One idea that added a nice, local touch to the works at La Tavola was to fashion most of the picture frames from small branches and sticks he collected on nearby Mount Namsan.
Over at Seoul Pub, the walls are also decorated with Mr. Yoon’s paintings, but this is where you can check out his sketching prowess. The booths there are ringed with likenesses he’s drawn of the bar’s regulars.
Though outwardly shy, Mr. Yoon will go right up to people at Seoul Pub and Spy Club, start friendly conversations and suggest that he sketch them. “This is a great way to meet people and to understand the impression you get from them,” he said. “I even ask people to draw me, so I can see what kind of impression they’re getting from me.”
In return for an on-the-spot sketch, Mr. Yoon asks for a donation. “People usually give me 10,000 won ($8) or 20,000,” he said, adding that the most he ever got was 100,000 won.
While he does occasionally sell a painting -― the Gyeongbok Palace one is tagged at 500,000 won ($417) ― it’s money from the sketches that pays the rent on his apartment in Haebangchon, a 20-minute walk away.
So if you fancy helping out a starving artist, here’s your chance. This writer, in fact, has scheduled a sitting with Mr. Yoon in hopes that the result can replace the photo accompanying this column, making Itaewon Wanderings more pleasing to the eye.
But that may take more imagination than even Mr. Yoon has.

by Mike Ferrin
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