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   (3.9-9.9.08) Mi-Ja Park private Exhibition 177

(3.9-9.9.08) Mi-Ja Park private Exhibition
(Exhibition Chamber 3, Main Hall Gallery, Sejong Cultural Centre)

Leaving home, Grandma
Primitive Painting of Mi-Ja Park

Mi-Kyung Kim (PhD Art History)
Kangnam University
Director of Korean Modern & Contemporary Art Research Institute

One ponders the world seen with unsophisticated, artless attitude.
In this summer, I was at the Dogo Seiji museum of Tokyo where ‘Happiness of Living- the World of Naïve Painting’ was being shown. When I was fixing my eyes upon the works of André Bauchant who got his fame for start painting entirely self-tutored after the age of 40, and Grandma Moses who commenced on painting in her age of 70 to hold her first exhibition 10 years later, I was being drawn into the pieces with serene, but profound emotions and simultaneously felt they were reminiscent of Mi-Ja Park.

Park, born in 1943 and graduated from Sorabul Art College with the degree in handicraft art, before working as teacher for Suwon Junior and High School for Girls, had been painting only in quietude. She also used to be engaged in juvenile art education while nurturing her children, which explains her professional inertia. Her proper art practice was hidden under her artless coyness for the first time decided to go public. After her rather belated career at Hong-Ik University learning fine art for 4 years and taking calligraphy lessons from Ghum-Yeo Hee-Kang Yoo, she is holding her first private exhibition, although she once was awarded prizes at some public contests.

I was yet to realize the fact that she actually painted until roughly 10 years back. It was late July of hot weather in 1998 when I made a hopeful visit to Jong-Hyun Ha’s house in Hwagok Dong for an interview for my doctoral dissertation. Park, his spouse, picked a cucumber from her mini-backyard plow and gave them to me saying “it’s rather small, but it’s organic” with her coy smile. Superficially, she just seemed to be the spouse of an eminent artist and mother of a brother and a sister, with her hobby of growing flowers, lettuce and cucumber; I failed to realize that she had been envisaging every moment of her each breath as a human-woman so as to remind herself her existence. Looking at the magazines and catalogues which were given up to me as Ha moved his household to Ilsan district, I also discovered her old domestic account book with a page saying ‘pocket money for dad 500 won, bean sprouts 30 won, Seo-Bo Park kid’s first birthday ring 700 won’ and I could still only think that she was someone ‘warmhearted’.

Her belated exhibition ‘Leaving home, Grandma’ offers a feeling like one’s getting a peep at a packed baggage of a granny who is about to commence upon a life-reflecting trip to ponder upon her footpaths.

Her early works provides a great detail of expression while managing to avoid emitting the sense of uptightness – which in some cases caused by such detailed expressions. They are somewhat realistic, but the compositions were drawn up very naturally and quite easy to observe with attention. Amongst her miniature crafted in 1980s, <Chrysanthemum and Still Life> (1980) and <Orchid> (1981) brings Surrealist mystique. <Still Life> (1982) involves Korean playing cards and new shoots budding off from whole bulbs of garlic, matches, a table clock and flowers creating eccentric harmonization, which altogether somewhat resembles in appearance her another piece <ET> (1983), as much as how Alice saw the ‘Wonderland’. <Ground Cherry> (1982) also caught my eyes for a long time as it showed collaged multicolor patch cloths in oblique perspective with a touch of woman’s daintiness. Furthermore, in <Wedding> (1985), painted when she was 42, we can see her younger self standing alongside her newlywed husband with smile under a pyrotechnic Chinese letter “chuck(祝)”, as the two have their arms intertwined. Her young look of the past gets imbricated upon her look around her forties shown in <Self-Portrait> (1987), in which Park is touching up on her lips with pink lipstick and her face with powder.

She is fond of flowers. Her paintings of flowers from around 2000 start getting the shape of what is so-called all-over composition. This transformation entails Claude Monet’s speckles while still preserving Park’s unique color sense and peculiar touches of brush. What I saw as Marilyn Monroe turns out to be, according to her, herself, who is wearing rather exposing black halter neck dress with florescent background. In order to reveal that the woman is in fact herself radiating her sexy and movie star-like aura of inner being, she cracks up and says to me ‘that’s me’.

She, who contemplates across her life with broad outlook, certainly possesses composure coming from her optimism and artlessness. This seems to spring from her posture that absorbs the consequences of her own introspection regardless of whether it is of materialistic repletion or destitution. In <My Birthday Party> she shows her inner richness and sharing of love. As for <Chorus of Flowers> she shows off herself singing in joy with other choir members in her Buddhism choir and Ilsan’s local choir group, again, implying her optimism. Her more recent works focus on slightly different subjects, such as her joyful meeting with Young-Bin Kim who runs Gallery Simon, Kyung-Hwa Kim who is the executive of DB Art, and her dear husband sipping wine. <Pub> (2008) is another painting in which Bok-Young Kim, a former member of faculty of Hong-Ik University, Chun-Nam Park of Pusan City Museum, Jun-Ki Kim, Seung-Beom Park of Koyang City’s Senior Artists Association appear. <Combas’ Visit> (2008) expresses her impression on Robert Combas upon his visit to her place that seems to be reminiscent of Combas’ unique touch. <Namdaemun on Fire> and <Candle Protest> (2008) speak by proxy of her, hitting sensitive socio-economic and public awareness of challenging national problems.

Optimistic lifestyle and small, passive matters of daily life therefore go beyond the dimension of her canvas to be like an ocean with bigheartedness. Philosophical thesis such as existence and non-existence, Yin and Yang, life and death ingrained robustly like immense deposits firmly placed in her modesty is what I loved.



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