People / Critic

Daesung Park, Writing Paintings: The Invention of Strokes in the Machine Age

posted 30 Aug 2022

〈Snow Scene of Geumgang Mountain (Geumgang Seol Gyeong)〉, 2019, Ink on paper, 223×772cm

〈Snow Scene of Geumgang Mountain (Geumgang Seol Gyeong)〉, 2019, Ink on paper, 223×772cm
Image courtesy of the artist and Gana Art

The artistic trajectory of Park Daesung the painter can be crossed and dotted by his artistic pursuit and the place of his practice. His early, novitiate years were from 1945 to 1979, including his placing at the 7th National Art Exhibition (國展) in 1958, to his study painting abroad in Taiwan. His exploratory years of inquiry, experimentation, and even subversion was from 1979 to 1988, where he sought to break out of the rigid and stagnant conventions of Oriental paintings and its circle using any and all means necessary, including alternative techniques, scaling, tools, and even material. Next was his crossover era from 1989 to 1995, where he traversed art circles in the East and the West, from New York to Seoul, and across the Silk Road.

Park’s Gyeongju era was from 2001 to 2015, where he dug deep into his Shilla Dynasty (57 BCE - 935 CE) familial roots to put forth his seohwa-ilchae-ron (書畵體論 - theory of calligraphy and painting as one body) and propelled Oriental paintings - more importantly Korean paintings - into contemporary conversation and relevance. In 2015, he began traversing between Gyeongju City and Gampo1), and began capturing the sea in the form of ink-wash (pen-and-ink style) paintings. This is the start of his current Cheongdo2) era. As such, even a summary introduction of “Sosan” Park Daesung’s artistic trajectory clearly reveals his muse as great mother nature herself. Once inspired, he also sought guidance from the great Masters of both the East and the West as well as historical relics and masterworks.

Regardless of the more detailed eras of Park’s life, for the purpose of this text, his art is discussed in terms of his calligraphic paintings before and after the Gyeongju era. Park’s artistic practice in the pre-Gyeongju era was within the domain of Oriental/Korean paintings, while the years after it were defined by the dynamic expansion of Oriental/Korean paintings into the contemporary realm and beyond. Park settled in Gyeongju in 2001 to take a break from his calligraphy and painting practices which had been sprawling in all directions. He set his goal on putting it all together, and dedicated daily hours into calligraphic practice for over 20 years. Diligent practice transformed his paintings and opened a realm that even he had not anticipated.

〈Willow Pavilion (Yu Roo)〉, 2022, Ink on paper, 107×286cm

〈Willow Pavilion (Yu Roo)〉, 2022, Ink on paper, 107×286cm
Image courtesy of the artist.
Photo by Jeong-wook, Hwang

Gyeongju became a watershed place and phase where his works were flat before, and three-dimensional and sculptural after. The very same characters, houses, mountains, trees, ocean and rivers in the before and after are clearly distinguishable by line and stroke. The materiality of ink and brush became one with the physical nature of Park’s body to transform into pilmuk (ink-wash or paint-and-ink style painting.). In his new embodied paintings, all human emotions(喜怒哀樂 - fondness, indignance, grief, joy; 愛惡慾 - love, hate, and desire) made the strokes fitful, sometimes numbingly quiet and fleeting to Nirvana.

The mountains and the seas, trees and flowers all become Park, and Park became them. It was why his paintings are interpreted without distinguishing between abstraction or conception. True appreciation of his work requires a recognition of the abstract in the conception and the concept within the abstraction. As discussed above, the intrinsic hyeongim (形臨 - copying calligraphy from a model) euiim (意臨 - copying freely, with little regard for the model), and baeim (背臨 - the writing itself) have been brushed in calligraphic form to meld Western abstractions and conceptions into his own unique formative language.

For a century, the writing brush, the Indian ink, and the hwaseonji (rice paper) had been overlooked - understudies to the stage dominated by the canvas, oil, and the paint brush. Park single-handedly reintroduced it into the front and center stage of our mechanical contemporary age in fluent, formative language. “Kyomjae” Jeong Seon, “Chusa” Kim Jeong-hui, Cézanne, Picasso, and Kandinsky are all present in Park’s calligraphic paintings.

Park’s painterly grammar compels the spectator’s heart to beat, and beat harder, simply through compositions of unrestrained hyperbole and iconoclasm relevant across eras and centuries, the East and the West. Yet at the root of each freely spoken visual utterance lie the flourish of the brush (一筆揮之) and deep-seated layers of ink (積墨). In that regard, Park’s paintings are akin to painterly manifestations of calligraphic brushwork. That is, Park as an individual painter reinvented the formative language of 20th century Korea, from the previous dissociated state of seo (書 - calligraphy), hwa (畵 - ink painting), and misul (美術 - fine art) into a universal formative language of seohwa-misul (art of calligraphic painting) for the contemporary machine era. At this juncture, we identify the ordinary (and thus great) philosophy of his artistic practice. Painting is not destined for a separate future, alone. What avant-garde practice, what future lies ahead, is the artist's dashing endeavor to achieve the most now, within the history and culture of the land he was born in.


1.Gampo is the eastern-most region of Greater Gyeongju, facing the East Sea in a North-South shoreline
2.Cheongdo is the artist's hometown neighboring Gyeongju to the southwest

※ This article is included in the August 2022 issue of Public Art, and is published by the Korea Arts Management Service under a content agreement with Public Art.

Dongkook Lee

Chief curator of Seoul Arts Center

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