Park Sookeun, one of Korea’s most beloved modern artists, was entirely self-taught. His formal education ended after elementary school, when he was forced to drop out in order to help support his impoverished family. But from the age of twelve, when he first saw a photo of Jean-François Millet’s painting The Angelus, Park dreamed of becoming a great artist. In particular, he wanted to follow Millet’s example by portraying scenes from everyday life with the sanctity of religious art. Staying true to his childhood dream, Park spent his entire career painting the daily lives, labors, and pastimes of ordinary Koreans.
Park’s paintings of children, women, and elderly people, rendered on a layered, granite-like surface, were completely unlike any other artworks in Korea at the time. This innovative style, with a texture reminiscent of tomb paintings on rock walls, was inspired by archaeological excavations of the Goguryeo tombs in North Korea. Also, granite is nearly ubiquitous throughout the Korean Peninsula, making it a natural aesthetic choice to represent Korea and its people.
As seen here, one of Park’s recurring themes was children at play, which he felt symbolized warmth, community, and friendship. A group of children sits in front of a humble thatched-roof house, playing a game. Standing off to one side, an older girl plays a more responsible role, watching over the group while caring for a baby on her back.