Housewife picks up a paint brush and finds fameIt took more than two decades before Kim Mi-sik picked up brushes and a palette and started to fill a blank canvas with colors. “It is a dream come true,” she said.
A few years back Ms. Kim was a full-time housewife in her 40s whose days were mainly spent vacuuming, doing laundry, cooking, washing up and otherwise looking after her husband and three daughters. Today she is a minor celebrity in her town of Daejeon after holding an exhibition of her paintings last year. Ms. Kim has been recognized by Daejeon media and a professional art group despite never having attended an art institute. Among the 30 paintings in her first exhibition, all but seven were sold. Three more sold after the exhibition.
“They sold because they were cheap,” Ms. Kim said modestly.
On a recent afternoon at a small studio in Daejeon, Ms. Kim was painting with strong brush strokes on a canvas that seemed to show a narrow alley in a residential area. Surrounded by tubes of paint, paintings and brushes, she held a photograph in one hand as she slowly replicated the scene on the canvas.
To this reporter, her drawings seemed blurry with few visible details but that effect is intentional. “What I advised Ms. Kim was that she make the image less detailed,” said Jung Young-bok, Ms. Kim’s teacher and colleague. Mr. Jung, a professional painter, also owns the studio and has been teaching and exchanging ideas with Ms. Kim since she first knocked on his door in 2002. She had seen several of his paintings at an exhibition. “His paintings stood out as you could see in every landscape painting Mr. Jung did, there was always a human somewhere,” she said.
Ms. Kim attended a commercial high school where students learned to design posters and products but that was far from a formal training in art. “Most of the drawings were of inanimate objects,” she said. “I wanted to learn how to draw people.” She also attended an art class at a community center in 2000, but there were too many students and too few teachers to permit the depth of study Ms. Kim wanted.
She is very proud of what she has achieved.
“I think it was especially my father’s dream to see one of his children hold an art exhibition,” Ms. Kim said.
Ms. Kim was the youngest of six children from a family living in Cheongju, North Chungcheong province.
Although she never trained professionally, her father helped her develop her skills as an artist.
“He was a police officer who was always honest and straight,” Ms. Kim said. “My father also did calligraphy.”
Her father always brought home a pile of used paper and encouraged his children to used the blank side as a canvas. “My eldest brother was the best among us,” Ms. Kim recalled. “My father, who was proud of our drawings, would decorate the house with our pictures regardless of whether the paintings won competitions.”
Ms. Kim said she wanted to major in art when she got to college, but that dream was shattered when her father died of cancer while she was still in high school.
“After graduating from high schooI had to give up my dream and marry my husband who works at a custom office,” Ms. Kim said.
Once married she gave up drawing or even doodling as she had to take care of her mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law and her own mother.
Ms. Kim said it was her mother who was her biggest supporter in preparing for her exhibition. “She would say she would do all the house chores so I could paint,” Ms. Kim said. “After her death, I learned that she had always felt guilty that she had failed to put me through college where I could pursue my dream of being a painter.”
“She passed away right before the exhibition was held,” she added.
Ms. Kim’s husband was also a silent supporter. “My husband never held me back from any hobbies I wanted to pursue,” she said. “However, he was very surprised when I held my first exhibition. Now he encourages me more than ever.”
She said her three children have little interest in art. “My daughters seem to take after their father more than me. Although their teachers and close friends say they have the talent and I’ve even tried sending them to a private art institute, they seem more interested in reading books than in drawing.”
Since her first exhibition last year, many of her friends and other housewives have become envious of her, she said.
Mr. Jung said that in recent years, many housewives in Korea have been taking an active interest in painting and art. “Once their children grow up and become independent, many housewives find themselves with a lot of spare time. Since they have money too, they gradually start to take notice of art,” he said.
“Painting is a healthy activity that many housewives can enjoy. It is far better than spending money and time on far worse entertainment, including adultery,” Mr. Jung said.
Ms. Kim said, however, that many people may be full of ambition and enthusiasm when they first start but many soon give up.
“The problem is many don’t have the tenacity to continue,” Ms. Kim said.
“Even my friend, who visited Mr. Jung’s studio in 2002 with me, quit.”
She said painting takes a lot of patience. “Unlike music where there is an end, painting is never complete. It must be worked on continuously.”
Ms. Kim says for now she has no distinctive goal. “I just love the fact that I am sitting here painting. That’s all I need.”
by Lee Ho-jeong