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[Herald review] Ink wash painter Bang Ui-geol touches mind ‘thousand miles deep’

March 4, 2024 - 19:11 By Park Yuna
Installation view of “Bang Ui-geol: Link to Creation" (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Ink wash is an art medium that young artists today mostly shun. A look at Bang Ui-geol’s ink wash paintings will make you realize why the centuries-old art form has been largely missing from today's contemporary art scene.

The 86-year-old artist is presenting more than 100 recent ink wash paintings -- called “sumukhwa” in Korean -- created in his 70s and 80s at the Seoul Calligraphy Art Museum in southern Seoul in an exhibition titled “Bang Ui-geol: Link to Creation.” It is his largest solo exhibition so far.

“I used to fall asleep listening to the sound of rain on a tin roof, which was like a lullaby to me. I paint the sound of raindrops becoming an artist, longing for the sentiment of the time,” reads Bang’s writing on the wall next to a series of paintings of rainy days in a forest.

Installation view of “Bang Ui-geol: Link to Creation" (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Bang’s paintings give off a mysterious atmosphere, transporting viewers to the world of his art. In an interview with The Korea Herald in 2022, the artist said that ink has its own “deep and subdued flavor” which “permeates hanji a thousand miles deep.” Hanji is traditional Korean paper made from mulberry tree bark.

The exhibition, running through March 29, focuses on the artist’s original ink paintings including his “Waves” series. The highlight of the exhibition makes visitors feel as though they are traveling through an infinite space with no beginning or end.

Installation view of “Bang Ui-geol: Link to Creation" (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Born in Gochang, a village in North Jeolla Province, the artist takes inspiration from nature on rainy days, waves, dawns, birds and mountain ridges.

In 2022, Bang collaborated with d’strict, a digital design company that expanded into the global art scene with Arte Museum, turning Bang's pieces into immersive media art. For the current exhibition, the artist focused on ink wash paintings, wishing to approach the viewers in a more fundamental way, according to the Bang Art & Culture Lab.

Installation view of “Bang Ui-geol: Link to Creation" (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Visitors to the exhibition left messages in a guest book, turning it into a collection of their impressions of the exhibition. A visitor surnamed Kim who was once a fisherman wrote that he could remember his younger self while viewing Bang’s paintings.

“In your paintings, I see a little boy who collects pine needles in a misty forest in the rain. I also see my younger self in a boat fishing for a living," he wrote on Jan. 26.

After graduating from Hongik University, Bang has explored ink wash painting for the past 60 years, He also teaches at Chonnam National University in Gwangju.

"Every experience is like a play. There is no experience that you should discard. All the experiences you have gone through constitute your identity," the artist said in a video playing at the exhibition.