Born during the Japanese occupation of Korea, the life of artist Lee Jung Seob (이중섭) is colored by ingenuity and hope in the face of isolation and tragedy. In many ways, his personal life story mirrors the turbulent history of the country he called home. In the aftermath of the Korean War, Lee fled his hometown of Busan and arranged for his family’s refuge in Japan while he escaped to Jeju Island seeking work as an art teacher to financially support his wife and two sons. This arrangement was meant to be temporary, but he would only see his family again many years later during a short, 5-day trip he made to Tokyo. The subject of Lee’s work as a painter and illustrator often focused on his family and the severe depression he endured from their separation. In 1954, he produced his most famous painting, ‘White Ox’, a part of a recurring series that explored Fauvistic techniques. Lee was also known to love Western films and is often credited for introducing contemporary Western styles to Korea.
During the height of his productive years as an artist, Lee Jung Seob lived in crippling poverty and would resort to whatever found materials were available to express his art. A large portion of his catalogue includes illustrations in the letters he sent to his family, which were often drawn directly on the stationary itself - he would also utilize the tin foil lining inside cigarette boxes to etch his illustrations. In 1955, Lee held his only private exhibition at the Midopa Gallery in Seoul. Just one year later, Lee died from hepatitis after a years-long struggle with schizophrenia, bulimia, and alcoholism - he was 41 years old.While he never saw his work celebrated in his own lifetime, Lee’s body of work was rediscovered decades later and he is now recognized as one of the most important figures in Korean art history. In 2016, exactly 100 years after his birth, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul held a retrospective which included the most comprehensive collection of Lee's work as well as a film and opera based on his life and the legacy he left behind.
Accompanying the release of our Huimang (희망, meaning ‘hope’ in Korean) capsule, TRUST will donate all proceeds to the MinKwon Center, a community-based organization serving the low-income, undocumented, and marginalized members of the Korean American and Asian Pacific American population in New York. You can learn more about their advocacy at www.Minkwon.org.