▲ Thoughtful clay figures are scattered throughout the grounds of Kim Young Gap Gallery Dumoak which the artist opened just before his death. Photo courtesy Susan Shain
Photographer Kim Young Gap came to Jeju in 1982 and was immediately entranced by the Jeju scenery. He then flitted between Seoul and Jeju for three years before finally settling down here in 1985. His life thus became dedicated to reimagining Jeju’s oreum, fields, silver grass, clouds, wind and seas through photography.
Penniless, he gathered money together for rolls of film and satisfied his hunger with carrots, radishes and sweet potatoes from the fields.
Going beyond the aesthetic beauty of the island, Kim penetrated the tenacious vitality of its people, reminiscent of the fierce Jeju wind. After 20 years he had an epiphany that the wind expressed the island’s genius, without an understanding of which Jeju would always remain unknown.
In his search for the wind’s essence he traversed the island’s interior, a land dotted with oreum (volcanic cones) which he called the mountain’s “secret garden.”
This garden included his favorites, Darangshi and Yongnuni among the 368 bubbling up on Hallasan’s slopes. His aesthetic style was founded on these and the island's mysterious hinterlands.
▲ Living on in the trees: Renowned Jeju photographer Kim Young Gap's gallery. Photo courtesy Susan Shain
“I was only completely free when I was there. It released me from the shackles of decorum such as jealousy, discord, grievance and criticism; all of these are absent in the secret garden. I was solely attentive to not damaging the short grass, insects, or frightening the wild animals,” he said.
The beauty which Kim sought exists in the unseen, as to see the light one must first know the darkness. Such moments are only known in the passing of time and their bewitching moments of transition.
This is what informed the artist’s aesthetic approach, capturing nature’s many whims of change, and in that change Kim saw moments of unity and harmony. This is what Kim experienced when he talked of “being Jeju.”
He prepared meticulously for his exhibitions, which were held in Jeju and Seoul as well as Russia, the United States and elsewhere. He saw it as a chance to break from any entrenched rhythms and see Jeju anew.
▲ Kim Young Gap Gallery Dumoak. Photo courtesy Susan Shain
As he grew older his steady camera hand deserted him, and then his legs too. He was eventually diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2001 and became bedridden, even unable to take food.
After a week he steeled himself and rose, endeavoring to build a gallery to house his work and beginning the renovation of an abandoned school. While battling disease he finally opened the “Kim Young Gap Gallery Dumoak” in 2002, providing a safe haven for all his work.
He passed away three years later on May 29, 2005, after struggling with the disease for six years. He lives on, of course, in the gallery’s clay, grass and trees, and when I walk there his words echo in my ears.
“Trees do not cling to fruit. They are not smug and boastful when abundant with it. Fruit is for the humans, insects and birds. Trees give everything away, and then begin again the cycle of bloom.”
Kim Young Gap Gallery Dumoak
137 Samdal-ro, Seongsan-eup,
9:30am to 5/6/7pm (depends on
season / closed Wednesdays outside
of July and August)
Adults 3,000 won (Jeju residents 2,000
won) / Children and seniors 1,000 won
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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