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Those Who Don’t Change Will Perish, but So Will Those Who Do

ARTIST INSIDE 2022 | Seobo Park

Those Who Don’t Change Will Perish,
but So Will Those Who Do

Seobo Park, the master of Dansaekwha, is full of enthusiasm and strength, as if defying his age of ninety-one.
The power I felt was a strong will to do his best until the last moment of his life.
He said “life and work are inherently hard and difficult.” and added
“I hope young artists will have hope after seeing me beyond my eighties.”

Seobo Park Portrait in his studio in Yeonhui-dong, 2021, Photo by Kyungbum Kim

When you received the Golden Crown Cultural Medal in October last year, you posted on Instagram, “It was an award I had wanted to receive, but I wish I could have been awarded it sooner. I want to show it off for a long time but do not have much time left.” That was very impressive.

I feel sad about it. After a stroke in 2009, I still cannot use one side of my body well. I cannot say how important each day is to me. My paintings did not sell at all until I was 80. Once, in 2019, I exhibited at a gallery in Germany, and the people walking down the street pretended to know me, “Aren’t you Seobo Park?” and I was asked to take pictures and sing autographs. It was the first time I experienced that. It was extraordinary, and made me happy. My fate seemed to change suddenly, and I could not believe it. (Laughs)

How does it feel to enjoy the glory of your time?

I am a person who has lived a lot of sad lives. You can’t even imagine the feeling of having your juniors succeed and not being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In 1980, I had an exhibition at the Hyundai Gallery of Modern Art, but my paintings didn’t sell even though the large ones cost just 3 million won (approx. 3,600) each. I was asked “Is that a painting?” countless times. My paintings now are a cluster of sweat, longing, and resentment.

If a younger artist says, “I am having a hard time, when will I succeed?” what would you say?

I could only tell them to work hard, that they will overcome this moment. I have never been helped by anyone in my life. I have managed to get here by fighting. Dansaekhwa is also something I set up while creating its theoretical system. Painting is a tool of expression for acceptance. This is an opinion that will never change in my life.

Seobo Park, 박서보, Ecriture(描法) No.900719, 1990, Mixed Media with Korean hanji paper on canvas, 72.8 × 53 cm

Are you afraid of death?

No. It will come for everyone, and I know it’s bound to come for me too. I have chosen the place where to be buried as well.

Have you decided on the phrase for the tombstone?

Yes. ‘Those who don’t change will perish, but so will those who do’ engraved in English and Korean.

People these days are afraid of a long period of sickness at the end of their lives.

I’m already a sick person.

What do you regret the most in your life?

How much I wish for the world to have known about me sooner.

Seobo Park, 박서보, Ecriture(描法) No.161207, 2016, Mixed Media with Korean hanji paper on canvas, 200 × 300 cm



Do you believe in reincarnation?

If it’s possible, I would like to be a painter again.

Do you believe in fate?

I guess I do. Who would have thought I’d succeed after eighty? (Laughs)

Seobo Park, 박서보, Ecriture(描法) No.080219, 2008, Mixed Media with Korean hanji paper on canvas, 165 × 260 cm

Where does the motivation for fighting hard and constantly changing come from?

I wonder if I have a great natural temperament.

Doesn’t it feel futile? Because if you die all would be for nothing.

I want to be remembered long after I’m gone. I want people to gain strength and joy from seeing that there are people who have lived hard and difficult lives like me, and that they can come this far if they work hard. As Dansaekhwa has gained a lot of attention around the world, Korean art has also become known worldwide. I hope that Korean painters will follow in my footsteps and spread their wings into the world.

Do you have any comments you want to leave at Kiaf this year?

It is becoming an event that shows that the world is paying attention to Korea and Seoul. Furthermore, I feel deeply that the art center of Asia is moving to Seoul. This is the power and pride of Korea, and it is the result of the dedicated passion and effort of Korean galleries.

Interview by Heaseung Kang, published on Kiaf 2022 Catalogue