▲ Kim Jeonghui, otherwise known as Chusa, regarded as one of the greatest Korean artists. Photo courtesy Seogwipo City
While dining with the distinguished scholars “Nosan” Lee Eun-sang and “Yeolam” Park Jong-hong, the former President Park Chung-hee asked them for their opinion on the greatest scholar in Korean history. Yeolam offered “Teogye” Lee Hwang, before turning to Yeolam and asking for the greatest artist; Yeolam responded “Chusa” Kim Jeong-hui. President Park then proclaimed that all relics and the birthplaces of Teogye and Chusa should be protected.
It is widely recognized that Chusa Kim Jeong-hui (1786~1856) was the most exquisite artist in Korean history. Although he was criticized for his liberal disposition toward China, attracting the slight “Danggui,” his artistic talent was without doubt. This is exemplified in “Chusache,” or the peerless calligraphic style that he created.
The irony of his exile is that the very conditions of solitude he endured led directly to Chusache, his greatest artistic flowering and one that would go down in Korean art history. He has exile to thank for his legacy.
His fame was not confined to Joseon, as he was renowned also in Qing China. At 24 years of age he was praised as Korea’s most learned scholar by Ong Bang-gang, himself the foremost Chinese scholar of the time.
Although many among his family died young, including his mother, foster mother and first wife, Chusa and his father lived a prosperous life and this was evident in his work. After his exile to Jeju, reflecting the nature of banishment, he renounced worldly pleasures and found inspiration in hardship, becoming the greatest artist in Joseon.
Chusa was 55 years old when he was banished to Jeju on Sept. 4, 1840, the sixth year of King Heon-jong’s rule. Chusa was the victim of the courtly intrigue of the Andong Kims, a powerful yangban, or elite aristocratic family. The king was young and weak, and powerful families were seeking to consolidate their positions while the regent remained powerless. A common theme in Joseon history, this is known as “sedo jeongchi.”
His misfortune was simple. The Andong Kims wanted to shore up Heon-jong’s rule and Chusa, a member of the literati and potentially disruptive, was deemed a risk. As a result, the King ordered Kim Jeong-hui banished to Daejeong-hyeon, the archaic name for southwest Jeju.
Chusa then spent over eight years in exile on Jeju Island, famously absorbing himself in his art. While it was common for such an exile to marry a local woman and build a family, Chusa was alone for all of his 99 months.
It is often wondered how he spent so much time in solitude. It is perhaps best answered in his own words: “In all of my 70 years, I wore down 10 ink stones, wore out 1,000 brushes and founded the Chusa style.” In his diligence and endurance he became the Joseon era’s most respected artist.
▲ Chusa’s “Sehando” (Wintry Scene) is regarded as one of his masterpeices. Photo courtesy Seogwipo City
The use of 'ho' (pen names)
Korean artists, particularly histor-ically, tend to use a ※ho,§ a pseudonym or pen name, which is a Chinese character in front of their given or family names. Used throughout the East Asian region by artists, the concept originated in China where it is known as ※hao.§
Kim Jeong-hui had over 200 ho; however, the name he is most known by, Chusa, means ※dignity§ and ※loyalty§ like fresh autumn air. Artists often adopt ho depending on the stage of their life or the persona they wish to portray through the pseudonym. Others used by Kim included Wandang, Yedang, Siam, Gwapa and Nogwa.
Chusa’s “Sehando” (Wintry Scene) is regarded as one of his masterpeices. Photos courtesy Seogwipo City
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