Taejin Seong Carves Vibrant, Whimsical Scenes to Reflect on Contemporary Korean Life

Originally trained as a printmaker, the contemporary Korean artist has transformed the traditional art of woodblock printing into something new. Rather than carving the wood to print multiples, Seong embosses and carves the surface with highly detailed narratives, and then paints his images with layers of acrylic. Each panel of wood is a self-contained feat of comic book art. “Wormhole,” Seong’s recent show at Gallery LVS in Seoul, showcased the development of this unusual and time-consuming technique. 
Seong’s palette, a mix of creamy pastel colors and bright hues, brings to mind cartoon illustrations from around the world, as well as the colorful striped patterns of saekdong, the traditional Korean costume commonly worn by children. The whimsical, dreamlike worlds he creates certainly evoke childhood, yet his compositions and pictorial references are thoroughly sophisticated.
Blurring the line between painting and wood carving, Seong embosses passages of the panel with Korean Hangul text, adding patterns that look printed, ironically. In a labor intensive, exacting process, he carves images into the wood using a knife, and paints them in using layers of acrylic. The effect is highly graphic yet richly textured.
In much of his work, the artist appropriates a popular Korean robot from the 1970s, Taekwon-V. A heroic character, the robot is a protagonist and the artist’s alter-ego. But since Taekwon-V is now unemployed (as the Earth is now at peace), Seong uses him to humorously depict tales of contemporary Korean youth. While earlier pieces portrayed the sad daily existence of the jobless superhero, Seong’s recent work shows a revitalized robot. In scenes taken from a childlike imagination, Taekwon-V is shown riding a unicorn, battling aliens, and fighting pirates in a sci-fi “oriental” landscape. Seong also depicts some seedier scenarios of the urban cityscape in cartoonish renditions of “Moon Towns”—the mountainside Korean slum-villages outside of Seoul. In such scenes, our hero lays around drinking soju, appearing in multiple places at once as he passes through time and space via wormholes.

—Jennifer Baum Lagdameo

Wormhole,” was on view at Gallery LVS, Seoul, Oct. 13–Nov. 14t, 2015.