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(Yonhap Interview) Artist Kang Ik-joong dreams big through palm-sized canvas

All News 15:54 July 18, 2016

By Woo Jae-yeon

SEOUL, July 18 (Yonhap) -- South Korean artist Kang Ik-joong is as much a thinker as he is an artist. That is, at least, the impression of him after talking with the globally renowned multimedia artist for a few hours.

Well known for his creating huge-scale, monumental installations in public with tens of thousands 7.6 by 7.6 cm paintings of his own or others, mostly children around the world, he yearns for a harmonious world where everyone stays connected.

As a poor student in the 1980s in the U.S., he carried a small canvas while commuting to his workplaces -- a grocery store during the week and a flea market on the weekends -- and painted what he observed in the foreign country.

"Since I was attending an art school, the idea just naturally came up. It wasn't like I had a grand vision of doing something great with the small paintings in the beginning," Kang said during a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency.

As a kid, he always wanted to become an artist. He recalled his uncle, one day, gave him a big compliment for his portrait of his great-grandmother. It was so good that his family used his painting for memorial services. The ego-boosting episode encouraged the curious boy to continue dreaming about becoming a painter.

"When I entered my university, everything about art suddenly wasn't interesting at all. It was as if a bubble burst."

During his university years in Seoul, he mostly stayed out of the art scene. Instead, he was more into "fringe" subjects like unidentified flying objects (UFO).

Kang still keeps the mindset of emotional detachment to art.

He is ready to drop a brush when and if he finds "something more interesting and meaningful than art," he said.

"What you do is not important. What matters more is you should be able to find the universe's order and learn a new thing. What medium you use doesn't matter."

Obviously, however, art seems to have been his primary medium in his life-long pursuit of the "order," as he hasn't stopped his efforts in deepening the horizon of the artistic world of his.

Since he moved to the U.S. in 1984 to attend the Pratt Institute for a master's degree, Kang has actively and widely exhibited. He opened a two-person show with Paik Nam-june at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Champion, Connecticut (1994) and a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, New York (1996). He joined group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1996) and Ludwig Museum, Cologne (2000). In 2010, he exhibited at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul to pay homage to the late Paik, his mentor.

In 1997, he was awarded the Special Merit prize at the Venice Biennale and in 2001 he exhibited "Amazed World," a gigantic maze installation that combined 40,000 children's works from 150 countries, at the United Nation's headquarters in New York.

More recently, he has been invited as the main artist for "Totally Thames," an annual riverside festival in London which is scheduled for September. There his "Floating Dreams," consisted of 500 miniature paintings by South Koreans who had to flee their hometowns across the border during the 1950-1953 Korean War, will be on display.

Creating a show with Paik, South Korea's visionary video artist, certainly helped Kang raise his global artistic profile. But more importantly, it served as a wake-up call that gave him surprisingly delightful enlightenment.

During the interview, the soft-spoken artist with a childlike smile shared one of his fond memories of Paik. At the dinner table after the opening ceremony of the two-person show, Paik asked him "What do you think the 30th century would look like?" Thinking Paik must have been confused, he asked him back, "You are talking about the 20th century, right?" Paik said "No. I am asking about the 30th century."

"I felt Paik was like a shaman who could see a star in broad daylight. Imaginative power makes an artist and he has this amazing power of imagination," the 55-year-old artist said.

A man of many dreams, Kang hopes to build a "Bridge of Peace," decorated with 2 million miniature paintings, at the border area between the two Koreas.

"The idea of the bridge formed in my head 19 years ago. I officially lodged the proposal with the government and now all I can do is wait for their answer," he said. "As an artist, I've thrown a fishing net. Sometimes art is all about waiting."


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