Born in Seogwipo-si, Jeju, in 1926, Byun moved to Japan at age 6 with his parents. After graduating from Osaka Art School, he became the youngest winner of the grand prize from Japan’s Koufukai Competition at 22 years old.
Japanese people loved the portraits by a young Joseon artist, who won the grand prize of Japan’s most renowned art contest at the youngest age. When he returned to Korea and created detailed landscape art depicting the old palaces in Seoul, the art dealers immediately sold them to the big market in Japan.
▲ 1991 제주 해녀 33 x 24 cm 돌 선택
In his middle age, Byun headed to Jeju all by himself, deserting the stable mode of living. This was when flights between Seoul and Jeju were available once a week. His life of self-exile was lonesome, the clay-colored paintings didn’t sell, but he is now remembered as a Jeju artist.
Byun’s aesthetic transformations were in line with residential relocations. He worked mostly on portraits in Japan (1947-1957), hyperrealistic depictions of ancient palaces in Seoul (1957-1975), and ink drawings on clay-colored paper illustrating Jeju’s primitive life during his stay in Jeju (1975-2013).
However, his Jeju Days paintings become extremely simple. To Byun, Jeju was an island of lights and wind. In his previous interview, Byun once remarked, “When I first stepped outside the airport, the sunlight shone fiercely. Everything seemed to be yellowish-brown. That was the color of Jeju.” Jeju is indeed a windy island, where the seeds you sow blow away with the soil.
▲ 1991 폭풍속에서 8 48 x 38 cm 박정근 선택
The source of motion in his paintings is this wind. In the ferocious waves, thatched houses and stone walls on the verge of collapse, the wavering skirts of men and women who await their loved ones, the deteriorating mane of ponies, and the fluttering wings of crows, we can see the presence of wind. This is the reason he is called “a painter of storms.”
▲ 1991 목동 41x32
When he passed age 80, two of his pieces garnered attention for being exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum in the United States for ten years since June 2007. He earned the honor as the first Korean artist to be displayed at the Smithsonian during his life. In 1997, search engine Yahoo selected Byun as one of the “Top 100 Global Artists since Renaissance.”
On June 8, 2013 Byun Shiji passed away due to chronic conditions.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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