With his highly unique style and distinct expressions of the human form, Kwon Jinkyu stood apart from his contemporaries in Korean modern sculpture. After studying sculpture in Japan, Kwon returned to Korea in 1959. At that time, most Korean sculptors were pursuing abstract sculpture, strongly influenced by the new styles and techniques that had recently been introduced from the West. Resisting this trend, Kwon continued to create his distinctive figurative sculptures, seeking to “redefine realism in Korea” in his own way.
Kwon produced many busts of women, including Priestess, which depicts a female Buddhist monk in meditation. The rough form of the upper body and the shaven head serve to direct the viewer’s attention to the face, where the monk’s calm facial expression exudes a sense of serenity and mindfulness.
In the 1960s, while most Korean modern sculptors were starting to work with metal, Kwon continued to use the unconventional materials of terra cotta and lacquer. To create Priestess, he used a special lacquer technique called geonchil, in which hemp cloths soaked in lacquer were attached to a plaster mold to create a hardened form. For an even rougher texture, he mixed the liquid adhesive with a powder made from crushed roof tiles. The unfinished look and grayish color give Priestess a somewhat primal appearance, reinforcing the spirituality that the piece emanates. Kwon spent countless hours developing this laborious process because it produced forms that were relatively light yet very durable. Even so, his works received little public attention during his lifetime. Tragically, in 1973 he committed suicide in his studio in Seoul, leaving a note that read: “Life is emptiness and annihilation.”
The works featured in this audio guide were selected by RM of BTS.
The text was written by Ellen Joo, Youngin Arial Kim, Virginia Moon, Julia H. Han, Park Hyesung, and Kim Inhye.
The audio recording is by RM of BTS.