The Korean Villages of Joung Young-ju

Joung Young-ju: Predawn Path (2020)
Joung Young-ju: Predawn Path (2020). Acrylic on Korean paper mounted on canvas, 65 x 91 cm. Courtesy the gallery and the artist

I’ve been really impressed by the atmosphere created by Joung Young-ju’s paintings. Villages densely populate hillsides and valleys and fickle lights evoke feelings of intimacy and warmth.

Sunrise and sunset define a special time of the day which forms a connection between two separate moments: day and night. And, hence, it feels like an ethereal and suspended moment of its own. The artist exquisitely captures this ephemeral quality and the perception of the passing of time. Somehow, the works suggest a silent atmosphere as well, although they allow the imagination of the viewer to dwell on what the life of the village could be like. The warm lights depicted in the paintings are indeed a reminder of the life inhabiting the houses and the villages. They suggest that something is happening there in such a subtle and subdued way that no image or specific understanding is imposed on to the viewer’s imagination. The viewer is therefore free to respond to this visual language in their own way and be guided by their own nostalgia, memories or sensibility.

Joung’s paintings are getting attention in the international art scene: the artist (b.1970) recently exhibited her works at Albemarle Gallery in London, UK, showing three pieces, and her works have been sold at Christie’s auctions. One aspect, among others, of Joung’s paintings that caught my attention is the use of hanji, the traditional Korean mulberry paper. The landscapes are painted on this traditional paper, which is mounted on canvas. In the artist’s works hanji paper is not perfectly smooth and flat: instead it is purposely crumpled and wrinkled, creating a more dynamic texture and, perhaps, strengthening the connection of the works with the concepts of ‘lived’ and ‘traditional’.

As reported on the popular website Wikipedia, mulberry paper in Korean culture is employed in several ways for its versatile qualities and durability. Its use ranges from interior design, to crafts and fine arts. Korean mulberry paper derives from the inner bark of mulberry trees and first came to use in Korea shortly after paper was invented in China. Even the oldest wood block printed document in the world, the Pure Light Dharani Sutra, which dates back to circa 704 A.D., was printed on hanji paper and is listed among Korea’s National Treasures1. The discovery of these ancient documents is proof of the durability of mulberry paper, as it survived over 1000 years.

The artist, who applies the paper on canvas, contributes to spreading awareness of and knowledge about this paper indigenous to Korea, while also bringing to international attention another side to Korean urban landscapes.

I hope I will have chance to see more of Joung’s works and learn more about the artist’s works in the future. If you’re curious, you can see more of artist Joung’s works on her Instagram account (@joung_young_ju_) and elsewhere on the internet.

  1. The document is part of National Treasure 126: Reliquaries from the Three-story Stone Pagoda of Bulguksa Temple []

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