Cattle inspire colorful paintings of bucolic bliss

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Cattle inspire colorful paintings of bucolic bliss

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“Family Story” by Hwang Young-sung, left, and right, “Singing Ox.” Provided by the organizer

Cattle are an integral part of Korean culture and history, which is not surprising since Korea was until relatively recently a traditional agrarian society where the number of cows in your fields indicated how much money you had in your purse.

Even today, as we work our way deeper into the Year of the Ox, cows represent abundance, diligence, honesty and purity, virtues that inspire the artist Hwang Young-sung.

Hwang is currently holding an exhibition called “Ox and Family” featuring 40 oil paintings of cattle at Gallery Hyundai in Sagan-dong, central Seoul.

The artist’s affection for cows stems from his early work painting images of traditional thatched-roof houses in the 1970s.

“I would paint a thatched-roof house with a family living inside the house and its surrounding nature,” Hwang said in a phone interview early this week. “But something was missing. There wasn’t enough rustic warmth.”

What he had in mind were images of cows, since he thought they were an integral part of the farming family.

“Cows are very special to Koreans, a precious fortune and a source of labor and food,” the artist said.

Some people say a man’s best friend is his hound, but for Hwang living in the countryside decades ago, cattle supplied him with companionship and inspiration.

His paintings at the gallery are simple and abstract, characterized by rhythmic patterns and a delightful sense of humor.

“For the past few years, the symbolic virtues of cows have been overshadowed by political and social factors,” he said, citing importing U.S. beef.

Hwang said he wanted to restore the image of the cow using bright primary colors. In works such as “Family Story,” the images are fun, almost cartoon-like. In other paintings as well, Hwang portrays cows as if they’re wearing mascara and lipstick.

“I concentrated especially on portraying the cows’ eyes,” he said. “They are very honest - they tell you everything.”

The exhibition runs until Feb. 28. To reach the gallery, take Anguk subway station, line No. 3, exit 1. For information, call (02) 2287-3500 or visit www.galleryhyundai.com. Opening hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The gallery is closed Mondays.


By Lee Eun-joo Staff Reporter [angie@joongang.co.kr]
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