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[ZOOM KOREA] Artist can see the forest through the trees

Dec 28,2018
Artist Kim Yeon-hwa, who focuses on painting birch trees, takes a walk in a forest of birch trees in Inje County, Gangwon, to gather inspiration. [PARK SANG-MOON]
More recent works of Kim, top, show her desire for union, cohabitation and hope. Kim’s earlier work, above, shows how she looked at birch trees and the world in which she developed. [PARK SANG-MOON]
To artist Kim Yeon-hwa, white birch trees are a source of inspiration. Over the past 20 years, she has solely focused on getting that particular tree on canvas. She explores the different looks of the trees throughout the four seasons, and sometimes the moon and the stars accompany them on the canvas.

When she was younger, Kim lived in a traditional-style home in Yesan, South Chungcheong, with a roof made of straw. Thanks to her parents, who love flowers, there were different kinds of flowers throughout her house, like bongsunga - known as impatiens balsamina - and chaesonghwa - known as rose moss. Trees were abundant in her front yard, including chestnuts, poplars and planes. Some mulberry trees were also planted by a field in front of their yard.

Mount Baemi was right behind her house. The world of her imagination unfolded while she watched interestingly-shaped clouds hit the middle of the mountain right after the rain stopped. She imagined that the god of the mountain or an angel would get on the clouds to reach the ground. She started to capture what she saw.

Paper was rare and expensive back then, so the yard became Kim’s canvas. She used sharpened twigs to draw on the soil. Sometimes she got to draw on paper when her brothers saved some pages of their notebooks or when her father handed over a bag that was used to carry cement. Sometimes she spent an entire day lying down in the yard drawing.

Her demonstrated love for art continued in college where she majored in the subject. However, she had to forgo painting and drawing for some time after she got married to a husband who wanted her to focus more on raising a family. She wasn’t so outgoing, and she started to feel suffocated and depressed. As she grew increasingly nervous and doubtful, she started to think that she needed to make some changes.

She began to visit her friends and acquaintances’ art studios. That naturally led her to reach out for a paint brush. She painted what she wanted to on canvas. As she started, her condition got better. She became livelier and brighter. That’s when she started to focus on painting birch trees.

One may feel they are reading a fable when they look at Kim’s works. The blue tone she often uses inspires people to be more emotional and inspirational. The moon and some stars, often appearing in her work reflect the memories of her younger days and the dreams she had back then. The images are connected to the time she spent living surrounded by nature.

Birch trees on Kim’s earlier canvases show the point of view she takes towards the world and the ideas she once had. But her more recent works seem to have evolved, focusing more on the lights, sounds and scenes that surround both the birch trees and the greater forest. She wants her artwork to be a medium to encourage communication among visitors: anyone who takes a look at her works can approach art more easily.

The artist said the very core of the forest is the mother - the essence of a life - as well as a nurturing channel. While what’s seen right away are the different colors that make the forest, you will soon find the forest is also home to sounds from chipmunks, woodpeckers and other animals living there. The sounds achieve harmony with flowing water and falling snow from a twig tumbling to the ground. Once you get closer, there are the sounds of creatures hibernating under the snow waiting for spring to come.

Since Kim found her way back into art, she has also used her time to make art to look for those in need. Kim said there are five things she wants to share through her birch-tree works. First, one shouldn’t be greedy. Second, be relaxed and learn to wait. She also encourages giving more and being in the shoes of others, as well as looking at things with a pure heart. Finally, dreaming is important.

Just like she has done so far, she makes a promise to herself that she will continue painting birch trees. She also wants her work to be comforting to those who are hurt and tired. She wants time spent viewing her work to feel like sitting beneath a canopy of trees after a long walk during those hot summer days you can feel the breeze to cool down.

BY PARK SANG-MOON [moonpark@joongang.co.kr]