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(Yonhap Interview) Artist Kim Il-tae steps into new territory with gold paintings

All Headlines 11:20 April 04, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, April 4 (Yonhap) -- In the beginning, artist Kim Il-tae acted out of desperation when he dabbled with the idea of painting with gold.

Having struggled to make it in the U.S. as an artist, he got a suggestion from his mother, an art teacher for 36 years, that he might as well try painting with gold -- not gold leaf which wasn't something new in the art scene, but with pure gold.

It took him nearly seven years to figure out the optimal mixture of 24-carat gold powder, natural oil and a glue of his own making that made it possible for him to actually paint with gold pigment, without a crack or change of color. In order to not waste the precious metal, he practiced with the finest red clay he brought from the southwestern province of South Jeolla.

"I thought there was no hope for me to distinguish myself in the art world that was, I felt, so centered around western artists," Kim said, reflecting on the six years when he studied art in San Francisco, the U.S., in the 1990s, in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Monday.

"The future looked dire and I had to come up with a really creative and original way to be able to make it in the tough art world."

But it didn't go down well with his family when he sold a building he owned to buy the noblest metal to smear it on a canvas, an act that was interpreted by many art critics as him going insane.

"My wife left me and I was ostracized by society. But all I wanted to do was to rise to the challenge by pioneering an unknown art area," Kim said, lighting up a cigarette and taking a long drag. "I was that desperate."

He applies a layer of gold pigment to a canvas and lets it dry for two weeks. The process is repeated 7-8 times to make it possible for him to express deep, rich textures and shades when he constructs a painting using a chisel, not a brush. Sometimes, a lump of the pigment is plastered on the gold canvas to be baked at around 80 degree Celsius for two days until the chunk is turned into a jelly-like substance. He then carves and shapes it into whatever he wants it to be.

His day starts at three in the morning. For the following six hours -- the most productive time of the day -- he repeats the process of spreading gold on a canvas and carving images into it, during which his studio is filled with cigarette smoke.

Through his art, Kim longs to convey a message that will never change in a thousand years, like his own gold art would.

"I wanted people to instantly connect with my paintings, regardless of where they come from, and there is nothing better than motherly love for that purpose," said the 59-year-old artist in a camouflage jacket -- his usual work outfit.

His first private exhibition in 2011 in Insa-dong, a culture and art district in downtown Seoul, caused a ruckus in the Korean art scene when a metal detector was employed to verify whether it was indeed a painting with pure gold. Since then, he has opened around 20 exhibitions overseas including in China, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Japan. His artistic profile in the global art market was given a boost when South Korean singer Psy of global sensation "Gangnam Style" bought six of his paintings, which he then gave to popular pop singers and CEOs of global companies as presents.

On May 12-20, 45 paintings of his will be on display at the Saachi Gallery in London, well known for introducing global contemporary art worthy of notice.

"I am honored to be introduced in the gallery and grateful for the opportunity to show my works and to be reviewed as an artist," Kim said.

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr
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