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00707012
2011.2
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KOREAN

North California Artists Find Inspiration in Korean Culture Five Looking West Exhibition

The Five Looking West exhibition reveals the artistic perspectives of five American artists who have “looked west” across the Pacific over to Korea. What does it mean to look “west” to see Korea? To someone living in California, Korea is a “western” country in geographical terms. But to someone like me, who is familiar with Korea being known as a “Courteous Country in the East,” the title gives a refreshing jolt. At this recent exhibition, held at the Korea Foundation Cultural Center in central Seoul, I rediscovered the images of Korea, a “western” country, as viewed through the eyes of American artists.

Eastern Culture and Western Creativity

At the exhibition, you can easily lose your way wandering about the varied artworks on display, which included about 50 pieces of diverse genres, such as book art, painting, prints, pottery, photography, woodcraft, and installation works. Every piece is unique and original, but yet they all have a somewhat familiar look and feel.
The reason for this sense of dejavu is that they have been inspired by the culture, philosophy, and nature of Korea. For example, the works by Lois Lancaster are worthy of careful attention. Her artworks include paper works made by twisting hanji (traditional Korean mulberry paper) into strings, and “Paper String Theory,” a book art with front and back covers made of prints, which brings to mind the superstring theory of modern physics. Like the superstring theory, which integrates quantum theory with cosmology, did the artist try to combine the spiritual worlds of the East and the West?
Lois Lancaster, who majored in anthropology at Stanford University and earned her master’s degree in graphic design at the University of California, Berkeley, first visited Korea in 1970 along with her husband. She acquired an interest in Korean mythology and shamanism after meeting with Zo Zayong(Jo Ja-yong), a famous folklorist and collector of Korean folk paintings. Since then, she has continuously engaged herself in print making and painting based on Korean motifs. Recently, her works had been acquired by the British Library and featured in its Special Exhibition of Asian Influences and Arts.

Linus Lancaster, her son, also came to Korea in 1970 along with his parents, and has since visited here several times. His experiences in Korea and exchanges with Korean artists have served as an inspiration for his artworks. His painting, Living with Monk Junggwang, resulted from his days spent with Monk Junggwang, when his father was preparing to publish “Mad Monk,” a book containing poetry and paintings by the eccentric Korean monk. Another of his works, titled Site Marker-Guardian, is a jangseung-inspired wooden sculpture with two rakes. It is rooted in his strong impressions of the traditional totem poles found at the entrance to rural villages in Korea.

North California Artists Find Inspiration in Korean Culture Five Looking West Exhibition

Husband and Wife Ceramists

For the ceramist couple, Chris Sarley and Mary Pettis Sarley, this is their first visit to Korea. However, their ceramic works on display, fired in a Korean-style kiln that they personally built in Napa Valley, California, vividly capture the simple beauty and gracefulness of traditional Korean celadon adorned with underglaze iron-brown pigment.
Chris Sarley said: “After stacking the vessels neatly in the kiln, we burn firewood and then wait for several days, before opening the kiln and removing the works.

The process of examining each and every piece, and finding out whether it is a treasure or a failure, is itself a great pleasure to us. It is because the work is undertaken along with several other ceramists and the manufacturing process absolutely affects the profound and mysterious color of pottery, which is created when clay meets fire, air, and humidity.”One of Chris Sarley’s works, an oval-shaped vessel, Pod of Red Bean, contains wishes for good luck, inspired by the traditional Korean custom of eating red-bean porridge on dongji (winter solstice), in an attempt to ward off misfortune. His other works included Double Sun, based on the legend about the rise of two suns, Pottery Kerosene Lamp, 17 Tea Cups-Pyebaek (traditional ritual to pay respects to the brideg-room’s family by the newlywed couple right after their wedding ceremony), and Comb-pattern Pottery. As for the ceramic works by Mary Pettis Sarley, they tend to delve into how natural objects interact with each other and influence human spirituality. Her works integrate ceramic torsos, produced with a buncheong (stoneware decorated with slip and glaze) technique, with animal skulls and hand-shaped wood pieces. In her works, Gray Starling, Three Bells, Spring Under Pottery Moon, and Body of Heaven Under Red Moon, she relates the experiences of her everyday life on the couple’s 2,000-acre ranch, while tending to livestock and communing with nature over the past 30 years.

Application of Blank Space

Marylin Hulbert, who after working as a photographer for Chevron for more than 30 years, says that she was attracted by the repetitive use of patterns and a sense of “voidness” in the Korean folk paintings she saw a few years ago.
“I was really happy to realize that mountains are very important subjects in the folk arts and myths of Korea. I love the mountains. My works displayed at this show are also about mountains. When I take photos, I try my best to highlight things like fog, clouds, and the blank spaces that are often found in traditional Korean paintings,” she said.

Before visiting Korea, the five artists held a joint exhibition in California. Then, what is it that united these artists together and brought them to Korea? Like a passage from the poem, “Indra's Net,” written by Lois Lancaster, was it “the infinite net made up of knots”? Or a destiny arranged in their previous lives? This question suddenly crossed my mind as I was leaving the gallery.

Kim Sae-won Visiting Professor
Graduate School of International Studies, Korea University

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