Artist Oh Sea-young was a painter who strived to embody Korean aesthetics, which he interpreted in his own unique way. His paintings show how much he pushed himself as an artist during his life, based both in South Korea and the US. He constantly evolved his art throughout his career, creating large-scale paintings.
Oh got much of his inspiration from Korean artifacts such as traditional earthenware and elements found in the national flag of Korea. His paintings -- for which he used acrylic, oil, woodcut prints, collage and other materials -- also include spiritual themes from his Christian faith. Oh passed away at the age of 84 last year.
A relatively lesser-known artist, Oh was recently brought under the spotlight at an eponymous show dedicated to his work at the Insa Art Center in Seoul. The exhibition shows 42 of Oh's paintings, ranging from his work in the 1980s to his most recent. Collector Park Jae-seog has been collecting the artist's paintings since 2019 based on his fascination with Oh’s work.
“It was such an astonishing moment for me when I first encountered the painting ‘Festival.’ It felt like I was hearing joyful music played with trumpets from the painting. I found myself smiling and felt comforted when I saw it,” Park said.
“What I felt from the painting was so special that I started to collect his artwork one by one. When I heard the news that he abruptly passed away last year, it was really heartbreaking,” Park added.
The painting “Festival” features an ocean blue background and woodcut prints on a canvas with a collage technique. Upon close examination, a number of people are visible, as if they are dancing on the canvas. Another painting titled “Sign of Mentality” features a number of black brushstrokes against a golden background.
In the hopes of sharing Oh's work, Park plans to open another show in Seoul in the near future after the current exhibition ends on Monday. He will also launch a gallery dedicated to the artist in April in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province.
Oh studied at the college of fine arts at Seoul National University and the graduate school of fine arts at Hongik University. He fled to the US to continue his artistic career after painting “Robot” in 1979, which depicts an excavator scooping people from the ground. The excavator was widely seen as representing the military dictatorship which was in power at the time.
Lee Hwa-soon, the exhibition's curator, said she hopes Oh’s artistic career is reassessed with the exhibit and that more people can have a chance to appreciate his paintings.
“Oh used many different materials and unique colors that Korean painters at the time did not dare to use,” Lee said.