Welcome to my travel stories. From July 13 – August 13, I traveled in South Korea and Japan. This travelogue is the first of four describing my experiences on this trip.
Entrance to Haslla Art World
Haslla is located on a high bluff on the East Sea, outside of Gangneung, South Korea, on the Eastern side of the country.
From July 14-30, I was an artist-in-residence at Haslla Art World just outside of Gangneung, South Korea. I met Professor Choi and Mrs. Park at the Trans-Cultural Exchange conference in Boston last October. They invited me to come to Haslla.
Being an artist-in-residence in a foreign country is an experience that produces a rich range of ideas, insights and new understandings. Haslla is a place where you are completely surrounded and suffused with art. It is everywhere on the grounds, in the buildings, within the people. As a traditional, ancient pilgrimage site to witness the rising sun, Haslla is set on a high bluff above the ocean. The moods of the East Sea grace everything. The bluff plunges upward behind the main buildings to form an embrace of pine. This protective backdrop shelters the experience of the sea.
There is a great democracy to the work at Haslla. Because of its insistent presence, there is a subtle feeling of the importance of visual expression. There is always something else to discover in the environment of Haslla. The Professor has unbridled curiosity and his creative mind is everywhere at work. Lining the parking lot are 5 gallon buckets, each growing lotus flowers. A bathtub sits on the cafe terrace, also growing lotus flowers. Big sculptures and small, hand-sized works pop out from odd places – atop a wall, sitting on a random ledge, greeting you at every turn. Call it art exuberance: the enthusiasm for all things creative makes being at Haslla fun, exciting, and wildly stimulating all at the same time.
As an artist the source of my work has always been the natural world. How our human energies intertwine with those of the natural world produce a never ending conversation. The place that Haslla is, was a perfect place for intensive work. I produced one large panel, 48″ (120cm) in diameter. It took the first week to prepare and gild it. Knowing how long gilding processes take, and how short my time would be at Haslla, I brought with me prepared, gilded paper and panels. I produced over 20 pieces, including a small group of watercolors done on site, outside.
The lotus is ever present in Korea and Japan. It is a revered flower, and gorgeous in all its phases.
Mrs. Park and the Professor took good care of their artists. On my first Sunday there, we drove an hour to a temple in Odesan National Park. We hiked almost an hour to reach it, and climbed further to visit a temple housing the bones of a famous monk. This trip up into the mountains was beautiful and full of leaning about Korean culture. The temples of Korea are exquisitely decorated. Bright, detailed painting covers every surface. If you see a group of ravens outside of a temple, your wishes will have extra power. There were more than a dozen outside the mountain top temple.
After a farewell lunch the day before I left, Mrs. Park took all the artists-in-residence to a huge lotus garden. The experience of this place is hard to put into words. I felt as Czeslaw Milosz expressed in this poem:
It was a riverside meadow, lush, from before the hay harvest,
On an immaculate day in the sun of June.
I searched for it, found it, recognized it,
Grasses and flowers grew there familiar in my childhood.
With half-closed eyelids I absorbed luminescence.
And the scent garnered me, all knowing ceased.
Suddenly I felt I was disappearing and weeping with joy.
-Czeslaw Milosz p. 21, Facing the River, 1995, Ecco Press
The time spent at Haslla was a gift of complete immersion in art making. The company of 5other artists in residence at meals was always a welcome exchange. We did not often discuss politics. We sometimes discussed art matters and issues. Mostly, we discussed our cultures, our food, our experiences. We laughed and teased each other. Just like family.
The next installment will share artworks that I produced while in residence at Haslla. Stay tuned!