新십장생도 낙원으로의 초대
The New Sipjangsaeng-do (Ten Symbols of Longevity): Invitation to Paradise
With their busy modern lives, people often seek a place of physical and emotional healing. In the exhibition 新십장생도 낙원으로의 초대, Hee Sook Kim, with her eye for beauty, fills the canvas with motifs from Korean folk paintings and thus invites the viewers into a meditative healing space.
Hee Sook Kim’s work as a Hwa-won heals us.
During the Joseon dynasty, Do-suh-hwa 도서화 was a government branch consisting of exclusively male painters called Hwa-won 화원. Kim’s work reveals her as a 21st century Hwa-won, recreating Korean beauty with a Western and modern sensibility.
Born in Korea, Kim immigrated to America in her late twenties, and has been steadily working since then, establishing herself as a veteran artist who has absorbed both Korean and American culture. Applying Korean folk painting techniques to Western modern art, Kim recreates the traditional Korean Sipjangsaeng-do (Ten Symbols of Longevity) painting, thus further conveying a sense of Asian beauty. The subject matter of her work extends beyond surface level beauty, speaks to her life as a female artist, and leads viewers to a natural healing paradise.
This exhibition, which includes motifs from Korean folk painting symbolizing wealth and honor, consists of three main parts: Sipjang-saeng (Longing for Longevity); Thousand Year Crane (Flies over Taos Mountain); Peony, Butterfly (Reborn with Fragrance).
(Longing for Longevity)
At the entrance of the exhibit, Kim’s large Sipjangsaeng-do piece, with motifs drawn from a popular painting of the 17th-18th century Joseon dynasty, will immerse viewers in Korean beauty. Recurring images such as sun, mountain, clouds, rocks, pine tree, water, turtle, crane, deer, and plant of eternal youth add aesthetic quality and decorative effect. This imagery highlights the meaning of Bulrojangsaeng (不老長生), which can be translated as “perennial youth and longevity” and evokes as well the natural healing effects of Korean folk religion. The viewer’s position further transforms the work, maximizing the effect of Kim’s recreated scenery and thus helping us grasp her rendering of paradise. Kim uses Western painting materials, but her Korean brush painting technique eschews the impression of depth found in much Western painting. This allows the illusory quality of her painting to stand out, and her quick, concise brush strokes and accidental dripping of paint deepen the Korean beauty. Reinterpreted through a hybrid Asian and Western perspective, the new Sipjangsaeng (新십장생) carries us far beyond the original significance of longevity and speaks to Kim’s life as well as to her desire to heal the heart.
A Thousand Year Crane
(Flies over Taos Mountain)
Cranes appear frequently in Kim’s work, and the elegant and poised figure of the crane thus reminds us of her. Cranes were believed to live for a thousand years and thus signify longevity and good luck. Korean patterns, reinterpreted and recreated, and overlaid as lace patterns, fill up the background of Kim’s pieces and speak to the hidden lives of Asian women. Kim also reflects on moments of healing she witnessed in her travels. The cranes in this series fly into the mountain range of Taos Mountain, shaped like a woman’s body, in New Mexico. The use of motifs from Sipjang-saeng-do and the combination of elements from East and West enable us to see Kim’s life and her eye for beauty.
(Reborn with Fragrance)
Hwahwedo, one of the Joseon era’s folk painting series, includes the most feminine and decorative elements of Kim’s works. Her choice of peonies, which signify wealth and prosperity, as the centerpiece and her use of a butterfly as a symbol of transformation and reincarnation are representative of her unique way of making art, an endless process of synthesis and change.
新십장생도 낙원으로의 초대 is a testament to Kim’s tenacious spirit as a female immigrant artist. This exhibition shows how—despite the challenging cultural environment—Kim welcomes new possibilities and spreads Korean beauty. Kim’s works make us share her fervent passion and invite us into the speculative paradise she has created.