British envoy’s books transformed into art
Published : Sep 20, 2011 - 20:53
Updated : Sep 20, 2011 - 20:53
British Ambassador Martin Uden never thought his passion for collecting books about Korea would ever result in more than a collection of books. However, that changed when he met artist Simon Morley.

Morley and the British Embassy are running an art exhibition of paintings inspired by some of the books in Uden’s collection.

“I never knew when I started collecting books that they would end up as an art exhibition,” Uden said. “I just collected books about Korea because I love Korea, I wanted to know more about the place and keep up my links with the country.”

The journey from book to canvas started a year ago when Morley purchased “Times Past in Korea” written by Uden.

Morley said, “I found this book to be an interesting concept because it has extracts from Westerners’ accounts of their time in Korea from late 19th to early 20th century. So it was helpful for me to get some idea of what Westerners made of Korea during that period.”

After discovering that the extracts from the book were from Uden’s own collection, Morley contacted the ambassador and a collaboration started focusing on a new group of artworks.
British Ambassador Martin Uden (left) and artist Simon Morley talk about the paintings the “Land of the Dawn” exhibition. (Yoav Cerralbo/The Korea Herald)

“Morley saw that my collection forms a bridge between our two countries, he wanted to see if he could expand on that and use this collection as inspiration for an art project that would bridge Korea and the United Kingdom,” Uden said.

The exhibition at the Fine Art Gallery Art Link in Anguk-dong is divided into four parts.

The first section showcases 10 near-monochromatic white book paintings chosen according to aesthetic criteria and in relation to historical importance.

“I chose white because it is the quintessential Korean color that symbolizes purity, innocence, morality, death and assimilation with nature,” Morley said.

The second part of the exhibition examines four painted works that spell the titles of some of the other books in the collection using bits of flora Morley found during his hikes at Umyeonsan near his home in Gwacheon.

Morley also evokes the imagination of the viewer in the third section by hanging four scrolls that list the captions of the illustrations found in those books; the difference is that the pictures are missing which allows the viewers to imagine what the Western writer was showing over 100 years ago.

The final section is a video with a fragment of a text from a guidebook from 1907 superimposed on the moving image of a mountain stream in Seoul.

“You always think of books as something you open up and read,” Uden said, “But now you look at (these paintings) closely and find the meaning of what is being shown which makes you think about it in a way that you would not have normally.”

The art exhibition runs until Sept. 30. For information regarding the museum, visit

By Yoav Cerralbo (