Written by Sugwon Kang, Senior Scholar ’08-09
I began drawing pictures rather early in my life. One day, when I was 7 or 8, I found an irresistible subject in our family living room. My father had a guest, and, almost compulsively, I started to sketch the face of this interesting-looking man, unbeknownst to my father, after positioning myself behind his back. The gentleman could see what the little boy was up to; out of kindness he put on a grin, without, apparently, realizing that holding a smile is not an easy thing to do. While I tried to put this man out of his misery by being quick about my task, my father was left to wonder what was going on, for the man kept smiling!
A few years thereafter, while still in grade school, with three thousand kids, I won the second prize in the school’s art competition, with a pencil drawing of the school’s building. During the Korean War, I was old enough to feel the pain of dislocation and devastation, but I had the benefit of a loving, supportive and nurturing family. And there was so much more to draw now! Anything that moved was a fair target for me — soldiers, tanks, airplanes — and I did so always from memory.
Unfortunately, I never did meet an established artist who did representational work, the only kind I would have cared to study with. Then, in 1956, after I had arrived in the States, art took a lonely backseat in my life as I found a new passion: piano playing. AFter doing some pencil and pen portraits to supplement my income as an undergraduate, I stopped drawing. For a long time.
Then, out of what felt to me like sheer madness, I took up painting in the winter of 1978 and ’79, for the first time in my life. And it was not a very uplifting experience. Very often when I finished a new canvas I couldn’t bear looking at the one just preceding it! Five years later, in the spring of 1984, after having done a few dozen passably good ones, I stopped painting — just as abruptly as I’d started. Then, in the summer of 2001, I spent a week studying with the eminent portrait painter Daniel Green at his studio in North Salem, New York. More paintings followed, as well as many pencil and pen portraits and figure drawings. My most recent finished oil painting is Korean coastal scenery, thought to be somewhere at or near Mount Sorak. It is a painter’s copy of a photograph with some minor embellishments.