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The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York

14. (NoHo)

After being stranded in Japan throughout the Second World War, during which he survives the 1943 firebombing of Tokyo (for the rest of his life whenever he sees something that has been burned he mistakes it for a human body), a Korean artist returns home to join the faculty of a new fine arts department. A couple of years later he is arrested by the South Korean police who suspect him of being a Communist agitator and subject him to electric-shock torture. Two years later when the Korean War breaks out he is again arrested by the police who accuse him of proselytizing for Communism to his students. He is held in a detention center for 10 days in constant fear for his life. Not long afterwards, he has the misfortune to be in a town that is overrun by the Korean People’s Army. Once again he is arrested and tortured, this time for not being a Communist. When the area is recaptured by South Korean forces, he is sent to the front lines as a “war artist.”

After the war ends, he is able to emigrate to the U.S. and embark on life as an artist in New York City. Despite great poverty and hardship, he never considers returning to Korea. For ten years he has nightmares of being pursued by the police. Just the sight of a cop terrifies him. Eventually he overcomes his economic challenges and is able to devote himself wholly to his art. During the last decade of his life working in a large studio on the top floor of a building on Lafayette Street north of Houston, he uses paint and colored tape to create enormous pictures of Arcadian scenes, visions of earthly paradise that couldn’t be more removed from the dark times he experienced in the 1940s and 1950s. “Long ago, my life was not very peaceful,” says the artist before his death at the age of 96, “so I wanted to forget the pain, and only paint fantasies, things of beauty, things that were devoid of suffering.”

(Po Kim)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

All Issues