Two artworks by the late Byun Shi-ji were returned to Jeju earlier this month after being displayed at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.
In 2007, the two works; "A wild dance (1997)" and "Going the way as it is (2006)" were brought to the Smithsonian Museum on a 10-year contract. Byun was one of the two living Korean artists to receive the honor.
A wild dance (1997) . Image courtesy Foundation Art Shiji
Foundation Art Shiji, run by the artist's son Byun Jeong-hoon, said the two artworks were retrieved as the 10-year loan contract with the Smithsonian Institution ended. He also added that his two paintings will be exhibited in the near future on Jeju island.
With consistent themes of wind and sea and a minimalistic style, Byun's works are known to express the deep soul of this island.
Called an "artist of the storm," and known as a painter of Jeju, his works frequently feature iconic Jeju themes such as stone houses with thatched roofs, horses and the sea, crows in the sky, haenyeo (diving women), or solitary male figure.
Going the way as it is (2006), Image courtesy Foundation Art Shiji
In an interview with The Jeju Weekly in 2011, Byun Shi-ji said,“Jeju is a lonely, solitary island of exiles. People try to avoid solitude. I embrace it, internalize it.”
Born in Seogwipo, Jeju, in 1926, Byun moved to Japan at the age of 6 with his family and gained his education in oil paintings. He achieved early success during his 25-year stay in Japan and he returned to Korea in 1957. He became the youngest person to win the Grand Prize of the Kofukai exhibition.
He then spent nearly two decades in Seoul before finally returning to his birthplace of Jeju in 1975. Byun’s artistic life was, some critics say, the ‘samsara of wind.’
Carole Neves, then-director of policy and analysis at the Smithsonian, discovered Byun during a visit to Jeju and wrote, "I am fortunate to have a few drawings by the greatest living treasure of Korea."
Byun passed away on June 8, 2013, at 87 years of age. His work is displayed at the Gidang Gallery, Seogwipo City, Jeju.
1926 Born in Seogwipo
1931 Went to Japan
1945 Graduated from Osaka University of Arts and entered the Athenee Francais French Department
1949 Held his first private exhibition (Tokyo Shiseido Gallery)
1957 Returned to Korea (Seoul)
1958 Held an oil exhibition at Hwashin Department Store, Hwashin Gallery
1975 Returned to Jeju as a professor at Jeju National University
1987 Exhibited 37 works at Seogwipo Gidang Art Museum
1991 Retired from Jeju National University and settled in Seogwipo
2007 Exhibited two of his works for 10 years at the Smithsonian Museum, Washington: “A wild dance” and “Going the way as it is”
2010 Held an exhibition at Jeju Museum of Art as part of a Jeju KBS project Paintings
Paint1 <A wild dance>, canvas in oils, 1997.
Paint2 <Storm and gale>, canvas in oils, 30×44.5cm, 1997.
Paint3 <Loneliness is a bait>, canvas in oils, 30×40cm, 1994.
Paint4 <Endless wind>, canvas in oils, 30×40cm, 1993.
Paint5 <Going the way as it is>, canvas in oils, 2006
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