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Park Re-hyun's life as 'Triple Interpreter' - artist, wife and interpreter

Installation view of Park Re-hyun's retrospective
Installation view of Park Re-hyun's retrospective "Triple Interpreter" at National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Deoksugung / Courtesy of MMCA

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Park Re-hyun (1920-1976) is one of the first modern artists in Korea, having studied at the Women's Academy of Fine Arts in Tokyo in the early 1940s and holding her first solo exhibition in 1946. However, her second solo exhibition was about 30 years later in 1974, when she presented her works with her husband Kim Ki-chang.

A retrospective on Park on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of her birth at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Deoksugung, sheds light on the pioneer of modern art who experimented with Korean-style printmaking and tapestry.

The exhibit's title "Park Rehyun Retrospective: Triple Interpreter" comes from her wearing many hats ― an artist, wife and artistic partner of the hearing-impaired artist Kim.

Park studied art in Tokyo during the Japanese occupation of Korea, but pursued modern and abstract painting and print combining Korean traditional elements. Despite her artistic achievements, Park is more remembered as a devoted wife of Kim, who is known for interpreting the life of Jesus Christ in Korean style.

The event presents a comprehensive retrospective, from Park's early award-winning works to her shift to abstract art as well as her printmaking experiments combining Korean traditional ink-and-wash painting in her latter years, before her life was cut short by liver cancer.

Artist Park Re-hyun (1920-76) / Korea Times file
Artist Park Re-hyun (1920-76) / Korea Times file

MMCA director Youn Bum-mo expressed gratitude to the collectors who held onto Park's works for decades and cooperated for this exhibit, bringing them to light.

"This exhibition will be an opportunity to reevaluate artist Park Re-hyun, a pioneer who left a prominent mark as a female artist in the male-centered Korean art scene," Youn said.

While studying in Japan, Park won the Governor's Award for her painting "Make-up" in the 1943 Joseon Art Exhibition. The painting is in Japanese style, depicting a woman wearing in front of a mirror. It mirrors many of Park's characteristics, including empty background, correct body proportion and dignified female figure.

Park first met Kim when she temporarily returned to Korea to receive the award. They married three years later and her marriage with Kim was a hot issue in the art community back then as Kim was hearing-impaired and only completed elementary school, while Park was a modern woman who studied abroad in Japan.

After marrying Kim, Park tried to balance her domestic life with her artistic career. Instead of holding a solo exhibition, Park held exhibitions with her husband and tried to find inspiration from daily life while raising her four children.

Park Re-hyun's
Park Re-hyun's "Open Stalls" (1956) / Courtesy of MMCA

Park continued to explore her own path, contemplating on the Korean beauty and the Western modern art, winning presidential awards for "Early Morning" and "Open Stalls" in 1956. Since then, Park started to receive attention as an artist, independent from her husband's fame.

"Open Stalls" features a group of women at a market, showing Park's sense of composition. Her ink-and-wash painting was centered on color fields, not lines, differentiating from Kim's signature style. She also studied traditional folk paintings by Joseon-era painters Kim Hong-do and Shin Yun-bok in her pursuit of Korean art.

"It's not difficult to have artistry within your mind. When a precious flow begins to move with our emotions, it is a sign the world of art brings to our minds," Park said in "Art and I" in 1958.

For Park, traveling abroad provided a catalyst for change in the 1960s. She visited Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan in 1960, witnessing the tide of abstract art in the art scene.

In 1964 and 1965, Park and Kim held couple exhibitions in the U.S. and traveled around the U.S., Europe and Africa, where Park discovered the beauty of indigenous craftworks and ancient artifacts from various regions. She incorporated such elements into her abstract works, such as curving yellow bands substituted for golden relics.

The "Forgotten History" series, presented in the U.S. exhibition, conveys notions of history in various circular shapes and black lines permeating on Korean traditional paper.

In "Glory," displayed at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1967, Park captured the vitality and the original humanity in a curvy yellow line inspired by primitive cultures.

Park Re-hyun's
Park Re-hyun's "Glory" (1966-67) / Courtesy of MMCA

After the Sao Paulo Biennial, Park traveled Latin America and headed to New York to further study printmaking and tapestry. She studied the technique of simultaneous multicolor printing on copperplate prints, which became popular back then.

"Seeking to escape the limitations of traditional Korean paper, I became fascinated with the different printmaking techniques, each of which is very detailed and concrete. I realized that technique, which is often seen as the opposite of art, can significantly enhance artistry by expanding one's methods of expression in surprising ways," Park said in "My New Work Origin: Expressing the Beginning of Chaos" in 1974.

After mastering printmaking techniques, Park showed her interest in the formativeness of negative space by cutting copperplates into the various shapes.

Her second and last solo exhibition during her lifetime was her homecoming exhibition to Korea in 1974. Bringing printmaking materials with her, Park experimented with printmaking combined with ink-and-wash painting, which was unconventional.

However, Park died in 1976 due to liver cancer, taking away her chances to be more appreciated by the public.

Part of Park Re-hyun's
Part of Park Re-hyun's "Fishbowl" (1974-75) / Courtesy of MMCA

"Kim Ki-chang recalled that Park said (printmaking) is her path, combining elements of printmaking and Eastern painting. She even invented a print pressing machine by renovating a noodle making machine to achieve the effect she wanted," curator Kim Ye-jin said. "Despite her achievement, Park is less acknowledged in the development of Korean modern print, because she was from Eastern painting, often excluded from the category of printmakers from the background of Western art."

The exhibit runs until Jan. 3, 2021.


Installation view of Park Re-hyun's retrospective
Installation view of Park Re-hyun's retrospective "Triple Interpreter" at National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Deoksugung / Courtesy of MMCA

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Park Re-hyun (1920-1976) is one of the first modern artists in Korea, having studied at the Women's Academy of Fine Arts in Tokyo in the early 1940s and holding her first solo exhibition in 1946. However, her second solo exhibition was about 30 years later in 1974, when she presented her works with her husband Kim Ki-chang.

A retrospective on Park on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of her birth at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Deoksugung, sheds light on the pioneer of modern art who experimented with Korean-style printmaking and tapestry.

The exhibit's title "Park Rehyun Retrospective: Triple Interpreter" comes from her wearing many hats ― an artist, wife and artistic partner of the hearing-impaired artist Kim.

Park studied art in Tokyo during the Japanese occupation of Korea, but pursued modern and abstract painting and print combining Korean traditional elements. Despite her artistic achievements, Park is more remembered as a devoted wife of Kim, who is known for interpreting the life of Jesus Christ in Korean style.

The event presents a comprehensive retrospective, from Park's early award-winning works to her shift to abstract art as well as her printmaking experiments combining Korean traditional ink-and-wash painting in her latter years, before her life was cut short by liver cancer.

Artist Park Re-hyun (1920-76) / Korea Times file
Artist Park Re-hyun (1920-76) / Korea Times file

MMCA director Youn Bum-mo expressed gratitude to the collectors who held onto Park's works for decades and cooperated for this exhibit, bringing them to light.

"This exhibition will be an opportunity to reevaluate artist Park Re-hyun, a pioneer who left a prominent mark as a female artist in the male-centered Korean art scene," Youn said.

While studying in Japan, Park won the Governor's Award for her painting "Make-up" in the 1943 Joseon Art Exhibition. The painting is in Japanese style, depicting a woman wearing in front of a mirror. It mirrors many of Park's characteristics, including empty background, correct body proportion and dignified female figure.

Park first met Kim when she temporarily returned to Korea to receive the award. They married three years later and her marriage with Kim was a hot issue in the art community back then as Kim was hearing-impaired and only completed elementary school, while Park was a modern woman who studied abroad in Japan.

After marrying Kim, Park tried to balance her domestic life with her artistic career. Instead of holding a solo exhibition, Park held exhibitions with her husband and tried to find inspiration from daily life while raising her four children.

Park Re-hyun's
Park Re-hyun's "Open Stalls" (1956) / Courtesy of MMCA

Park continued to explore her own path, contemplating on the Korean beauty and the Western modern art, winning presidential awards for "Early Morning" and "Open Stalls" in 1956. Since then, Park started to receive attention as an artist, independent from her husband's fame.

"Open Stalls" features a group of women at a market, showing Park's sense of composition. Her ink-and-wash painting was centered on color fields, not lines, differentiating from Kim's signature style. She also studied traditional folk paintings by Joseon-era painters Kim Hong-do and Shin Yun-bok in her pursuit of Korean art.

"It's not difficult to have artistry within your mind. When a precious flow begins to move with our emotions, it is a sign the world of art brings to our minds," Park said in "Art and I" in 1958.

For Park, traveling abroad provided a catalyst for change in the 1960s. She visited Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan in 1960, witnessing the tide of abstract art in the art scene.

In 1964 and 1965, Park and Kim held couple exhibitions in the U.S. and traveled around the U.S., Europe and Africa, where Park discovered the beauty of indigenous craftworks and ancient artifacts from various regions. She incorporated such elements into her abstract works, such as curving yellow bands substituted for golden relics.

The "Forgotten History" series, presented in the U.S. exhibition, conveys notions of history in various circular shapes and black lines permeating on Korean traditional paper.

In "Glory," displayed at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1967, Park captured the vitality and the original humanity in a curvy yellow line inspired by primitive cultures.

Park Re-hyun's
Park Re-hyun's "Glory" (1966-67) / Courtesy of MMCA

After the Sao Paulo Biennial, Park traveled Latin America and headed to New York to further study printmaking and tapestry. She studied the technique of simultaneous multicolor printing on copperplate prints, which became popular back then.

"Seeking to escape the limitations of traditional Korean paper, I became fascinated with the different printmaking techniques, each of which is very detailed and concrete. I realized that technique, which is often seen as the opposite of art, can significantly enhance artistry by expanding one's methods of expression in surprising ways," Park said in "My New Work Origin: Expressing the Beginning of Chaos" in 1974.

After mastering printmaking techniques, Park showed her interest in the formativeness of negative space by cutting copperplates into the various shapes.

Her second and last solo exhibition during her lifetime was her homecoming exhibition to Korea in 1974. Bringing printmaking materials with her, Park experimented with printmaking combined with ink-and-wash painting, which was unconventional.

However, Park died in 1976 due to liver cancer, taking away her chances to be more appreciated by the public.

Part of Park Re-hyun's
Part of Park Re-hyun's "Fishbowl" (1974-75) / Courtesy of MMCA

"Kim Ki-chang recalled that Park said (printmaking) is her path, combining elements of printmaking and Eastern painting. She even invented a print pressing machine by renovating a noodle making machine to achieve the effect she wanted," curator Kim Ye-jin said. "Despite her achievement, Park is less acknowledged in the development of Korean modern print, because she was from Eastern painting, often excluded from the category of printmakers from the background of Western art."

The exhibit runs until Jan. 3, 2021.


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr


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