Park Seo-Bo Receives South Korea’s Highest Cultural Accolade
By Nicole M. Nepomuceno
Abstract artist Park Seo-Bo was bestowed the Geumgwan Order of Cultural Merit, South Korea’s highest cultural honor, for his contributions to Korean art at a ceremony at Seoul’s National Theater of Korea on October 22. Eighty-nine-year-old Park, who had previously received national medals for cultural and civil merit in 1984, 1994, and 2011, stated at the ceremony, “It’s an award that I wanted to receive. You should have given it to me earlier. I want to brag about this for a long time, but I don’t have many days left.”
Park’s oeuvre spans over 50 years. Through a laborious practice of mark-making, he pursues balance, harmony, self-cultivation, and self-discipline—values that provided the philosophical foundation for Korea’s Dansaekhwa (monochrome painting) movement in the late 1960s. His enduring Ecriture (1966–) painting series embodies the essence of Dansaekhwa in its translation of meditation to material form through simple and repetitive gestures, marks, and actions. The series evolved from early canvases of graphite marks scratched onto wet, white oil paint to later works that feature colorful vertical columns and hanji, traditional Korean paper handmade from mulberry bark.
Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism summarized Park’s contribution in a statement: “Park has not only served a pivotal role in advocating Korean abstract art to the world as a pioneer of Dansaekhwa, now synonymous with Korean art, but also helped foster the Korean art scene as an educator and an administrator, while teaching as a professor at Hong-Ik University and serving as chairman of the Korean Fine Arts Association.”
In ArtAsiaPacific’s forthcoming Nov/Dec issue, Park is asked about his legacy and his generation’s contribution to culture in Korea, to which he responds: “The first would be the acknowledgment of painting as a means for meditation and self-discipline, which is where all my work begins. What’s so special about Dansaekhwa? Western art is all about expressing yourself, whereas Korean art puts more focus on nature. We believe that when we put too much focus on ourselves, it inevitably harms nature. Korean art is about emptying one’s mind, letting go of our egos, and returning to nature to coexist with it.”
The Geumgwan Order is awarded by the South Korean president for “outstanding meritorious services in the fields of culture and art in the interest of promoting the national culture and national development.” Park received the Geumgwan Order alongside literary critic, writer, scholar, and former culture minister Lee O-young. Previous recipients of the distinction include acclaimed video artist Nam June Paik, who received it posthumously in 2007.
Nicole Nepomuceno is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor.
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