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History & Theory
   Issue & Features on Contemporary Art in Korea / Art Theory   
Jong-taek Woo's Recent Work's

Research Fellow, ARTne   /   Department of Fine Arts, University of In-cheon   /   2008. 4. 2.

A New Features on the Boundary between the Traditional and the Modern

Jong-taek Woo's Recent Work's

Sang-chul Kim,  Editor, Wolganmisool

One of the challenges facing the artists working for Korean painting in common is how to accommodate the classical aesthetic insight, dubbed the tradition. It’s an old and long-lasting subject of modernizing the traditional formative arts, in other word, harmonizing the traditions and contemporaries.

Line-Up, 2007, Korean Water Color & Mixed Media on
Korean Traditional Paper, 180x180

Such an agony of responding and selecting under such situation is faithfully expressed in Jong-taek Woos’ works. He accommodates the traditional formative patterns through the compressive expression of the two-dimensional formative which was based on black-and-white and making use of marginal space.


Artist’s selection of such a black-and-white drawing may be interpreted as a sign of affirmation in principle for formative value, but more strictly, it’s a sort of an inertia derived from a tradition. That is, adopting a black-an-white pattern or traditional formative art was not on purpose but it was rather due to not able to make it available more effective alternative material or expression way. After all, artist’s works is a kind of seeking or pursuing that has happened at the sensitive boundary between the tradition and modern days and such a thing is not only for individual artist but is comprehensively linked with the cores facing the modern Korean paintings, which draw people’s attention.

His works expressing his rich and dynamic black-and-white pattern began drawing people’s attention. His deep sensitivity about the black-and-white drawings and unique interpretation ability was quite impressive. His free-spirited shape and pattern that replaced a fine and sensitive drawing lines by hair pencil technique indicated that his concern and understanding about the tradition was neither rigid nor stereotyped. His works thus was rather totally harmonized than individually dense and complete, thereby structuring the characteristics of his own.

Line-Up, Korean water color & mixed media on
Korean traditional paper, 202x184
It’s rather ongoing works cling to rich formative possibility containing a passion that have yet to be expressed than structuring a stable formative frame. It may be said that it stands on a boundary separating a tradition from the contemporaries.

The change noteworthy recently is artist’s free-spirited and specific expression of their concerns. When it comes to the subject, a figure still remains important subject. It expresses the living pattern of the modern people, represented by the citizens. The previous works with the titles, line-up, metaphorically expressed a living of the people in towns that are uniform and standardized. In contrast, recent works, though they deal with the same space and subject, are far from previous ones in their way of expression.

The figures freely expressed in a black-and-white pattern are relatively implied in a refined manner. The faces of people living in the cities that cannot stare straightforward but glance sidewise look rather timid and pitiful, which must be a sensitive expression, a sort of compassion or incompetence.

Line-up, Krean water color & mixed media on Korean traditional paper, 160x130

Their uncomfortable gaze anchored at their everyday struggling lives and the site of their existence. Drastically deformed and distorted faces moved their gaze to the focusless eyes of the people with loosened neckties. Each individual has a flowerpot or flower in their hands. The artist talked to us explaining the flower symbolizing the hope and the start. It may be a stereotyped interpretation but the artist wish to build their unique messages, which may be the sign that encourages or comfort the people living in the cities, or a formative code that will be sent to themselves. The flowers in light color that wish to remind us of light-colored picture. Though the color itself is simple and controlled, it drastically changes the circumstance, which interprets that the expression of color which was relatively restrained in the precious works is stressed on purpose.

Artist’s works are obviously derived from a black-and-white pattern, but viewing the new elements and evidence of change, it raises the question whether the artist’s works are going to the way predictable in line with the previous works. Glancing at the pattern appeared, the artist might have felt the burden toward the traditional pattern and felt like escaping from such a long-lasting custom. As aforementioned, we can find a clue that a black-and-white pattern is not the absolute or inevitable pattern, but a pattern we have adopted from force of habit.

    Line-up, Korean water color &
    mixed media on Korean
     traditional paper, 130x69
The artist, in other word, has been seeking in various ways an expression that will effectively accommodate and express through the subjective formative aesthetics that have formed gradually in line with the development of works. Though it borrows the framework from the black-and-white pattern, it doesn’t rigidly interpret or accommodate.

A specific image resulting from the aggressive introduction of heterogeneous material and drastic change to the figures is understood as the kind of a clue that indicates such changes. The artist wishes to determine the direction himself based on his intent, sensitivity and accumulative formative experience, breaking from a long-lasting subject, the tradition and modern days. It’s not determined by dichotomy theory but a frank and careful attempt that reflect artist himself. It’s not what to be argued within a boundary of tradition or contemporaries.

Artist’s fresh attempt or transformation may look passive or piecemeal but the depth of agony contained is more than appeared. Should the traditional black-and-white pattern be walking on a metaphysical world, the artist wished to realize it in a breathing and living world. If the black-and-white drawing stresses the spiritual value from the mind’s eye, the artist sees it positively with his naked eye to express the real subject. While the traditional formative is static, passive and metaphorical, the artist is more aggressive, indicative and sensitive.

Line-up, 2007, mixed media, 90x110

After all, the goal of new works he has pursued will depend on subjective interpretation and materialization. It’s not physical ones that accommodate a simple reaction or paradox against the traditional aesthetic viewpoint or formative pattern, but it will be realizable when there exists the faithful interpretation and attempt. Artist’s works hence will become materialized through the gradual change and though it appears to be very slow and gradual, it must be what achievable in view of what has performed to date. Hopefully it will result in what we expect.

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