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Art&Culture
Exhibition review: Byun Wol-ryong: The Master Returns to the Bosom of His MotherlandKorean-Russian painter explores the meaning of home.
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승인 2016.09.05  15:53:47
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▲ Nakhodka Photo Courtesy Byun Wol-ryong: The Master Returns to the Bosom of His Motherland

Byun Wol-ryong: The Master Returns to the Bosom of His Motherland is an art exhibition currently being held at the Jeju Museum of Art.

In this exhibition, visitors can see the emotions of Byun Wol-ryong in the strokes of his brush and the colors of his paintings.

Byun Wol-ryong, also known by his Russian name, Varlen Pen, was born and raised in Soviet Russia.

Despite this, he held onto his Korean identity and chose to paint about Korea even though he never visited his parents’ homeland while growing up. Using pencil, ink, and charcoal, his paintings express an undeniable longing.

▲ Girl in hanbok. Photo Courtesy Byun Wol-ryong: The Master Returns to the Bosom of His Motherland

His dream of visiting his homeland became a reality in 1953 when the Soviet Ministry of Culture sent Byun Wol-ryong to North Korea to learn about socialist realism.

During his 15 months at the Pyongyang University of Art, he became deeply involved with the North Korean art scene and connected with famous North Korean artists like dancer Choi Sung-hee.

His paintings from this period reflect the change in his environment and probably the change in his heart as well.

▲ Dancer Choi Sung-hee. Photo Courtesy Byun Wol-ryong: The Master Returns to the Bosom of His Motherland

While in North Korea he painted beautiful landscapes of mountains and waters, as well as the humble life of farmers.

Although the subjects he chose to paint, nature and people, were the same as the subjects of his earlier work, there was a noticeable difference in his choice of colors.

His paintings of North Korean subjects used more pastel shades and vibrant colors in comparison to the dominant black and white etches seen in his earlier portraits and artworks in Russia.

▲ Mother carrying baby in rage Photo Courtesy Byun Wol-ryong: The Master Returns to the Bosom of His Motherland

The paintings of this period suggest that this master of painting had returned to his motherland.

However for Byun Wol-ryong, home was not simply Korea or Russia. Unfortunately for him, after this trip, he was banned from going back to North Korea due to political reasons.

He spent the following ten years longing for his homeland before finally giving up on his wish to return. Since deciding to commit to his life in Russia, he gained the respect of his colleagues and students.

His later portraits and paintings also reflected his change of heart and he went back to using brighter colors and expressions.

Despite uncertainty about whether he truly found home to be Korea or Russia, the one aspect of his life that never wavered was his love of people.

He painted students, old men and women, navy soldiers, political members, and of course, his wife and children.

To create one group portrait, he would study and make a separate sketch of each person. Even his paintings of historical events were drawn through the perspectives of people and their feelings. More than places, his passion was for people.

Visit Byun Won-Ryong’s exhibition at the Jeju Museum of Art before October 30, 2016, to see his longing and his dedication to his two homelands. It will make you ask yourself what “home” actually means.

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