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The hidden hanjiWerner Sasse's painting life
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승인 2011.03.26  17:13:23
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Werner Sasse has been known foremost as an academic leader in Korean studies. Hailing from Germany, now permanently settled in Korea, Sasse is enjoying a multi-faceted retirement on Jeju Island. He devotes much of his time to painting.

▲ Prof. Werner Sasse. Photo by Sarah Delroy
The fine arts have always been a part of Sasse’s life. Until recently he kept this love a secret. His father disapproved from the onset. He believed that pursuit of the arts would lead to poverty. Werner was forced to keep his cello and guitar hidden. As a painter, Sasse had his first group show during high school and caught hell when his father found out. Werner’s true dream was to study painting and archeology, but his father persuaded him to pursue business. That era of his life did not last long.

In 1966 Sasse came to Korea with his wife to teach and run a technical school for a fertilizing plant. Though he returned to Germany some four years later he never forgot his love for Korea. He pursued it academically and earned a doctorate. In 1992 he inaugurated a Korean studies degree at Hamburg University where he taught. In 2006 Sasse retired. He quickly decided his life was in Korea and came here to stay.

Until quite recently Sasse’s painting was a secret, even to those that had known him for a long time. An old friend of 25 years came to visit his home in Damyang, Jeolla Province and was surprised to see that Sasse had a painting studio set up in his hanok (traditional Korean house). Sasse explains that he continued to keep his painting a secret because in Germany it would have made his academic life look less serious to other professionals.

Sasse has hardly retired. Upon moving to Korea he continued to teach part-time at The Hankook University of Foreign Studies (HUFS). Five years later he was offered a position at Hanyang University. They were looking for a European academic voice. Sasse was impressed with this distinction and accepted a position as a chair professor. All the while he continued to paint.

Then Sasse met Hong Sin Cha (the well known dancer, choreographer, meditation instructor, author etc.). They knew almost immediately that they were for each other.

The pair decided to relocate somewhere quiet and make a new home base. After a brief holiday on Jeju Island, the couple found that this was the place for them. They live outside of Hallim and are looking for a home with enough space for a dance and art studio.

▲ an example of his work. Photo courtesy Werner Sasse

Sasse says that the soft light on Jeju is very much like the light in the Mediterranean, a boon for an artist’s eye. He also loves the movement and change of the sea. The island seems a good fit for his artist’s soul.

Academia no longer has center stage for Sasse. All interests move through his life in an organic way.

“I think people should be more willing to accept strange ideas,” he says.

If he is working on a painting and a piece of information about a Korean text translation comes into his mind, he will leave his brush and go to his desk to work on it. He says that sometimes it seems like he is not concentrating, but, in fact, he is working on several projects at the same time.

Sasse’s medium of choice is ink and clay on hanji, traditional Korean paper handmade for the inner bark of the mulberry tree. He has had several shows of his work in Korea and currently has one on Jeju Island at the Nori Gallery near Jeoji Artist Village. His work can be seen there until April 9. Call 070-8800-1108 for more information.

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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