Choi Moonjeung's Danchung exhibit to celebrate Buddha's birthday

Choi Moonjeung's Danchung exhibit to celebrate Buddha's birthday

by Dr. Kai Hong
Stripes Korea

When: April 14-20, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.  on Saturday and Sunday
Where: Namoo Gallery located in Jogyesa temple in Insa-Dong, Seoul, Korea
Sponsored by: Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea

What makes Choi Moonjeong unique is how she came to be the Painter that she has become. I believe, firmly, that someone is what she or he is today because of the kind of the past she or he had. Her road to where she is today is, indeed, very unique in that she is, before she is a painter, a certified (by the Government of Korea, nothing less) Meister Crafts Person in ‘Dancheong’, Dancheong is not just to paint a finished wooden structure in different colors in patterns that befits the use of the building, whether it is to be a Palace Building, a Buddhist temple, a private residence or some other such structures.

Dancheong is at the same a kind of varnishing or a protective coating of the wood surface from the natural elements as well as the inevitable invasion of a host of insects, to prevent the woods from corruption. It is also corrective measures to the incidental twisting or other incidental damages to any part of the wooden building material. As such, Dancheong is, in Korea, a form of Applied Art (or ‘Craft’) as opposed to the realm of Fine Art or ‘pure art’ as Koreans are wont to call it. In it, she is one of the acknowledged ‘great’ Master Craftsperson in all of Korea; so successful that the ‘dancheong-ing’ of famous big Buddhist Temple buildings are entrusted to her to restore to their original states or simply to do it for the first time when it is newly erected.

Rather than saying that she became a painter of Fine Art, it might be nearer to the truth to say that she also paints in the genre of Fine Art. She brings to her act of painting (of Fine Art) all the formidable sets of brush skills and coloring techniques of Dancheong, rather than the usual techniques of painting and drawing which any aspiring artist in Korea must go through in her or his procession from Art High School to Art College and then to becoming a recognized ‘professional’ Painter of Fine Art. It has proven to be her blessing that she did not have to go through the usual schooling for aspiring Korean artists, entailing all the mind-boggling bureaucratic and mechanical processes in the name of ‘education’, which has such dulling effects on the young minds that many of the art school graduates turn out to be posturing art-school types or mindless imitators of whatever goes on in the name of ‘avant-garde’ or ‘post-modern’ or some other such fashionable names, unaware that world-history does not stay still but constantly changes and therefore what passes by the name of ‘avant-garde’ in the former International Centers of the West might be in a drastic decline.

It is a blessing that she did not have to go through such a dulling education in a supposedly creative field of Painting (as a form of Fine Art), for it explains what I can only perceive it as being FREE in her spirit in her execution of her rhythmic and pulsating organization of her painterly plane and her judicious application of colors, the soothing colors, in harmonious resonance with the rest of her painterly variables like the individual brushstrokes, their propensities for directionality, the tonality of the colors and the textures among other things. That sense of freedom which seems to pervade her painterly plane, pulsating against the flat canvas, is what is especially noteworthy in her works, promising to open up an entirely new until-now-unsuspected vista for ‘Painting’ which embrace all the East Asian traditional genres of painting such as Buddhist, Ink-Brush, Literati, Folk and Korean national paintings in one glorious integration. Then, too, Choi Moonjeong shows the possibility of making use of modernist and post-modernist idioms in so doing. It then is a project for the future; but, when it is done, it will surely mean the ‘globalization’ or ‘modernization’ of what has been merely local-provincial and archaically traditional Korea-Oriental spirit of art.

To repeat, while it is really a blessing for artistic creativity that she began her artistic career as a very well trained Meister Craftsperson in Dancheong, the reality in Korean Art World is something altogether different. There’re strictly drawn hierarchical lines and the boundaries not to be easily crossed –namely, the boundary line between the applied art of Craftsmanship and the Fine Art of painting and sculpture in Korea. No matter that she is already a famous Meister in Dancheong; she is looked upon as a novice just because she has not gone through the same educational processes of ‘becoming a professional painter’ in Korea. Slowly, though, what was once an iron-curtained boundary between the applied and the pure arts in Korea is beginning to roll down, it seems. Only several months ago, there was a major Exhibition in which works of Furniture Design and Works of Fine Arts were brought together.

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