Han Gyeol's Solo Invitation Exhibition

<Moon in the Day>

27 March - 4 May, 2024 

The moon serves as a wellspring of human imagination, while also offering a unique opportunity for us to witness a recurring cycle firsthand. Despite millions of people gazing upon it simultaneously, this shared experience enhances the diverse ways in which we spread our imagination. Perhaps owing to this characteristic, Nam June Paik, a visionary who foresaw a future where each person would possess their own channel, famously stated, “The moon is the oldest television.” As the first digital creator during the 20th century, this perspective holds considerable merit.

Moreover, the “moon” follows a pattern of creation and dissolution, completing its cycle within a month and returning to its initial state. This lunar cycle inspired the formation of a calendar based on the concept of a “moon” or month. Numerous artists have associated the symbolism of the moon with themes of renewal and rebirth, leading them to continually reinterpret its significance of timelessness. Han Gyeol, renowned for his expertise in woodcraft and lacquer mastery, crafts a distinctive artistic realm themed around “Moon in the Day.” He creatively interprets the moon's imagery across a spectrum of materials and perspectives, encompassing jars, speakers, tableware, furniture, and commonplace objects.

The various forms of the moon interpreted by Han Gyeol resonate with the essence captured in the phrase “WolIncheonGangJiGok (月印千江之曲),” meaning "The moon shines a thousand rivers." Much like how each individual holds a personal “moon of the mind,” the unique depictions of the moon encountered in daily experiences come to life vividly within Han Gyeol’s diverse creations. Remarkably, Han Gyeol’s artworks stand out for being exclusively created from wood and lacquer, symbolizing the utmost purity of nature. These lacquerware pieces are truly unmatched and unique, enriched further by Han Gyeol’s innovative approaches to lacquering techniques.

“My lacquer artworks are kind. They can endure hot water, microwave, and dishwasher usage due to my application of highly advanced lacquering techniques. I've invested considerable time in modernizing traditional lacquer techniques, which have been passed down over thousands of years. In my spare moments, I persistently delve into academic articles concerning lacquer techniques. Typically, it takes around five years for freshly collected lacquer from trees to fully dry and exhibit authentic lacquering effects after being applied. Nonetheless, my artworks are ready for immediate use in their optimal condition upon completion as they undergo a baking process.

His lacquer artworks employ a unique method distinct from conventional lacquering techniques. Most items labeled as “lacquered products” in the market are coated with cashew primarily for industrial purposes. These counterfeit lacquers, while visually appealing, can pose health risks due to the strong odor they emit. This is because they are made based on industrial artificial lacquer derived from petroleum. Traditional lacquering methods necessitate an extended drying period in an environment maintained at temperatures of 27-28°C and humidity levels of 70-80%. Consequently, people often opt for the rainy season, characterized by elevated humidity, as a temporary work period. These constraints have result in the widespread proliferation of easily manufactured fake synthetic lacquer products.

What distinguishes Han Gyeol's lacquer from others? Primarily, he selects logs that have undergone a minimum of 10 years of drying. Following this, he shapes the logs according to his desired forms and applies his personally produced lacquer onto the wood surface at least 20 times. Throughout each coating process, the pieces undergo baking in a specially crafted kiln, reaching temperatures of up to 200°C. Consequently, Han Gyeol's lacquer artworks exhibit outstanding durability, capable of withstanding temperatures of around 200°C. They have a glossy surface that retains its appearance even when subjected to hot or cold water, without any risk of discoloration or emitting unpleasant odors. Moreover, Han Gyeol’s lacquer artworks offer the flexibility of applying additional layers of lacquer based on individual requirements, rendering them semi-permanent. His acclaim has even extended to the Cheongwadae (Blue House) Heritage, where he has actively participated. Notably, in commemoration of the 76th anniversary of Korean Independence Day in 2021, his artwork, a box containing the remains of General Hong Beomdo, was utilized during the repatriation process from Kazakhstan.

Lacquer can be applied to various materials, including wood or metal, but it is most effective when applied to lightweight wood. However, wood is prone to cracking when exposed to heat, which poses a disadvantage. Therefore, Han Gyeol dries the wooden logs themselves for several years before carving them without any joints. In this procedure, Han Gyeol strives to maintain the wood’s inherent grains and characteristics to restore its natural essence. Similarly, the production of raw lacquer is intricate. He nurtures lacquer trees in their natural habitat, allowing them to mature without artificial intervention in mountainous regions and avoiding chemical fertilizers. He selectively harvests small quantities of lacquer from trees that have naturally matured in mountainous areas for a minimum of ten years. This is why Han Gyeol emphasizes the term “organic lacquer.” Cultivating and managing lacquer trees requires considerable effort, which limits the quantity of artworks produced. Nevertheless, from the user's standpoint, these lacquer woodworking crafts offer unparalleled convenience and eco-friendliness. He states:

"As a dedicated lacquer artist, my aspiration is to be recognized as an ‘honest lacquer artist.’ Every person who interacts with my creations is considered part of my ‘family,’ and each work of mine contributes to ‘healing the body.’ Throughout the production process, rigorous personal trials are conducted on my own body before finalization. It brings immense satisfaction to hear individuals express how using my creations has led to healing experiences for both their physical and mental well-being. Additionally, I have crafted custom tableware for certain stage 2 to 3 cancer patients, resulting in numerous instances of recovery. By employing the dry lacquering technique, the anti-cancer properties of lacquer can potentially increment by up to seven times. This underscores the significant role that “organic lacquer” with durability surpassing 200°C, can play in enhancing everyday life.”

Lacquer, renowned for its electromagnetic wave absorption properties, finds applications in stealth aircraft and luxury vehicles such as Mercedes-Benz. Intriguingly, Han Gyeol frequently employs this feature to craft speaker artworks. Lacquer serves as an ideal companion for Bluetooth speakers, which inevitably emit electromagnetic waves as part of their wireless functionality. Additionally, Han Gyeol is a skilled artisan when it comes to crafting speakers. Drawing from his background as a former top-level executive responsible for designing and handcrafting speakers at a prominent automotive company during his youth, he breathes new life into even the oldest speakers. He possesses a unique blend of traditional and contemporary charm, often referred to as the “Midas touch of organic lacquer.”

Throughout history, the moon's image has served as a poetic and emotive symbol, often metaphorically linked with femininity across diverse cultures. In Han Gyeol's artworks, where he reinterprets the moon, his distinct and delicate sensibility shines through. From furniture to everyday objects, the applications may vary, but Han Gyeol’s distinctive signature is consistently marked by a “natural and eco-friendly texture.” Consequently, his lacquer creations embody a journey towards the most appropriate “healthy lacquer utilization” fit for modern lifestyles. In particular, in the curated exhibition Moon in the Day at Hori Art Space, we anticipate the broad scope of Han Gyeol's reimagined realm of “alternative lacquer forms.”

* Hosted and Directed by HORI Artspace, AIF Art Management


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오원배, (1953-)