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Exhibit features work by siblings who entered art late in life

Jan 31,2018
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Six siblings hold their own art pieces at Hankuk Gallery in Insa-dong, central Seoul. From left, Lee Byung-min, Byung-im, Byung-hee, Byung-tak, Byung-ju and Byung-uk. [KWON HYUK-JAE]
On the second floor of Korea Gallery in Insa-dong, Seoul, six siblings can scarcely hide their enthusiasm over the fact that they now have an exhibit displaying 12 original paintings and photographs, as well as a calendar featuring those works.

“We never imagined all of us would have an art show together,” says Lee Byung-uk, 72, the eldest of the six. “We didn’t even know we’d get into drawing after retirement.”

The fourth of the siblings, Byung-hee, a former elementary school teacher, was the first to take up drawing. “Two years before my retirement,” Byung-hee says, “I was wondering how to spend my time. I started attending painting classes at a cultural center in my neighborhood.”

“It’s the only thing I can do with my closest co-worker,” says Byung-ju, the second of the siblings and a retired middle school teacher.

Both of these sisters draw traditional Korean paintings. For the show, Byung-ju has chosen to present her works “Water Lily” and “Green Grape,” while Byung-hee has selected her works “Pine Tree” and “Flower Growing on a Rock.”

“My sister once told me,” says Byung-uk, “Brother, to live longer you need to draw a lot because using your hands helps the brain, and to be honest, I’m just thankful for all of this.”

Though he began later than his siblings, they now say Byung-uk has grown to exceed them all in talent. For the show, he has chosen to present one watercolor and three acrylics.

Perhaps the most unexpected artist of the bunch, however, is the third sibling, Byung-tak. “A year after Byung-tak’s retirement,” said Byung-ju, “we asked him what he has been up to and he said, ‘I paint.’ All of us were amazed because he never seemed to be interested in art.”

Byung-tak, who was head of the Itaewon-dong office until his retirement two years ago, is the only oil painter of the six. “Even I didn’t know I would get into painting,” he says. “It somehow just worked out this way.”

The fifth sibling, Byung-im, lives in New York and often spends time crafting and decorating traditional Korean clothes to ease her homesickness. Byung-im is presenting a collage made out of leftover clothing material.

The youngest sibling, Byung-min, 60, owns a private business in Gangneung, Gangwon, and has chosen to present a photograph after his sisters told him, “The youngest of us cannot miss out on this art show.”

Despite their different backgrounds and media, all their works have one thing in common. They all have the same theme: nature. “We don’t talk much when we get together, and I think that characteristic has blended into our pieces,” says Byung-im. “I believe we inherited the artistic sense of our mother, Lee Nak-ee [1920-1985], who wanted to draw throughout her lifetime.”

Byung-im added, “She worked as a kindergarten teacher after graduating from Chung-Ang Female Kindergarten Teacher School, which is now Chung-Ang University. She wanted to study art in Japan but she gave up her dream after meeting our father, Lee Hyung-sik, who was a teacher. When we were young, she drew pictures to help kindergarten kids understand certain stories due to a lack of picture books at the time. But we grew up poor, so it was impossible to study art. But we’re doing it now and we’re so thankful for that.”

By sheer coincidence, the start of the art show, Jan. 17, is also the anniversary of their mother’s death.

“If our mother was here,” said Byung-min, “she would be jubilant. We believe our love of art is a gift from her. We’ll continue to draw with her memory in our hearts.”

BY LEE EUN-JU [choi.sooyoung@joongang.co.kr]