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Art and play in the world of Yi WaljongThe artist who left Seoul to put down Jeju roots and free his creative potential
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승인 2014.11.05  11:58:32
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▲ Photo courtesy Yi Waljong Museum

Translation by Bogyeong Kim

For creative minds, the act of play is inherently creative, and this is the hidden joy of creation. Repetitive labor is to the detriment of our souls, stifling our full realization as creative beings.

Such a perspective was shared by painter Yi Waljong, an artist who settled on Mt. Hallasan’s southern slopes, the whole island being a garden of creative thought.

As a university art professor, he found his work as an artist neglected. Seeking to release his artistic soul, he freed himself from his liminal existence between work and love and committed himself to Jeju.

Having graduated from academic life, Yi devoted himself to Jeju, and art. He arrived alone, yet dived into the creative pool of the unknown, seeking to explore the unconscious in a way that was not possible in the capital.

Reflecting on his attempt to clear his mind of clutter, Yi also discarded his brushes and paper and took up embossed carving, a more physically demanding endeavor, yet mentally refreshing.

His private exhibitions were received well, although many commentators were irked by his move away from traditional Korean painting. Such opinions did not bother Yi, who did not feel confined by convention, recognizing that, as time goes by, people’s art sensibilities evolve.

Yi’s time on Jeju allowed him to recuperate as he communed with nature, drawing both energy and inspiration from the harmony he saw in the surrounding flora and fauna, all of which exemplified philosophical principles of peaceful coexistence.

It was not all revitalization, however, as his passion led to exhaustion, wringing out every drop of his creative self. This illness of self-reflection, whereby he dwelled on existential questions of heaven and earth, opened his mind up to introspection, and opened the world to his mind.

An important motif in Yi’s work is that of the incense burner, particularly after receiving one upon the death of his friend. In his representations of it, the smoke seems to symbolize the passage of our lives as it rises, disperses and vanishes. For Yi, our lives also follow such unseen rules, vanishing in an instant, following unknown paths linking the past, present and future.

During his 21 years on Jeju, Yi accrued the nickname “Waljong of Seogwipo” and he saw the city as being linked to the eternal universe, in the affinity of the red camelia on canvas, in the whites of our eyes, and in the eroticism of the earth.

His philosophy was one of naturalism, of life without intervention, of full expression of the creative juices, through his piercing insight which plunged the depths of Seogwipo’s blue oceans, to the heights of its volcanic peaks.

▲ Photo courtesy Yi Waljuong Museum

Yi Waljong(1945~)
1945 Born in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province
1970 Graduated in Painting from Jungang University
1988 Graduated from Gyeongbuk University Graduate School of Education
1974 Awarded 23rd Ministry of Culture prize
1983 Awarded 2nd Art Writer prize
1991 Awarded Korea Art Writer prize
2001 Awarded 5th Woljeon Art prize

Yi opened the Yi Waljong Museum near Jeongbang Falls in Donghong-dong, Seogwipo City. There his drawings, engravings and ceramics are on show and he continues to share his talents with children. Also, 300 of his pieces are registered with the Waljong Support Culture Foundation.

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