Drawing My Dreams
Mr. An Chung-geuk was born in 1995 in a quiet village in Onseong-gun, North Hamgyeong Province. Thanks to his father, a carpenter, his house was always filled with books on art. Around the time he entered middle school, by coincidence he got an opportunity to learn art, which looking back has made him who he is today.
To Live Hard
“I still think that I haven’t lived as hard as I did back when I was 13 years old.”
It was a rather unexpected answer to the question of how he started drawing when he was young. He had visited his uncle who lived in the next village and upon seeing his elder cousin learning art, he started developing an interest in art as well. Thankfully his father was also an art enthusiast and encouraged him, saying that if he is good at art then his time during his military service would go a lot smoother and urged him to follow her to learn art.
That is how he first began a journey that would actually lead him through continuous pain. The little carefree boy that used to roam free in the mountains and streams around the village suddenly had to persevere through his day which would start early at 5 until late at 11. “A lot of people think that I was born with talent since I started art so young. But actually, when I look back, I didn’t have any talent or interest in art. For art class homework I would even ask my mom to finish it for me” he said, smiling.
Coming from this background, going to and from his art teacher’s house to his uncle’s was a difficult road. It was uncomfortable living with his uncle, but more than that, he struggled with his lack of art skills, which were not comparable to other students’. However, after about 6 months’ worth of endless practice, he started to progress ahead of the other elder students.
“At first I did everything headfirst, blindly. I thought I had to do it just because my strict uncle told me to. Then before I knew it, I started to get deeper and deeper into art.” Once his passion and enthusiasm for art was sparked, no one had to force him to sit before the canvas and get to work.
Because of this experience, his standard of working ‘hard’ is different from others, even in South Korea. Others might think he’s doing plenty enough, but remembering his 13-year-old self burning the midnight oil in front of a canvas pushes him to do more, thinking he’s not doing enough. “At that time, I thought everything was hard but now that I’m in South Korea, I can see that those experiences were valuable in helping me to overcome whatever I had to do to be here today.”
Art by Chance and Destiny
Just when he started enjoying going to his art teacher’s place, his father, who had always been discontent toward the North Korean regime, escaped first. And around 2009 when he was 15 and his art skills had been improving by the day, An followed his dad and escaped.
Upon coming to South Korea and entering an ordinary middle school, he couldn’t draw for a while. It was hard enough adjusting to the day to day routine of the new school life, and his family couldn’t afford to send him to an art academy.
On top of that, he had to endure the endless bullying and teasing of classmates. It wasn’t until high school that he could pick up a brush again. “That time was truly terrible. The thing I had loved the most was art, the thing I was good at the most was art, but I had to basically give it up.”
It was almost by chance that he got to pick up a brush again. During his first art class in high school, he stood out thanks to his superior art skills. His teacher told him to stay after class, which he first thought meant he was in trouble for something.
His art teacher asked if he would be interested in pursuing art seriously at an academy. He rejected the idea initially since he couldn’t afford to go to art school and it had been too long since he’d last drawn. However, the art teacher convinced his mother that he could go on a scholarship, which led to him facing the canvas once more.
Starting to paint once more was blissful for him, who hadn’t been able to hold a brush for so long. “I was incredibly happy every day when I went to the art academy. Being able to draw again made me feel like art was my destiny.”
Afterward, after studying hard throughout high school, he was accepted into Hongik University’s painting department.
Mine is a Difficult Path
The path of art was like his destiny but that didn’t make it easier. With an elated heart he started university, a time which brought forth more difficulties. His father who had been his mental support suddenly passed away in an accident, bringing a storm of hardship.
Suddenly faced with being the head of the house, he had no time to ponder questions such as “What is beauty?” and “What is a beautiful line and color?” but had to deal with very real problems. Eventually he took a leave of absence from school and jumped into providing a livelihood.
He made a living doing hard labor at a construction site, wondering if he could pursue art again, or if he should even pursue that path. However, his answer was always the same.
“It was a really difficult time but I think it was also a time for me to ask myself fundamental questions. Every night when I put my weary body in front of the canvas, I found myself happy. Art healed me of every difficulty and pain. In the end, that time helped me to get deeper into art.”
Upon graduating from university, he diligently prepared exhibitions of his work. When asked about his insistence on following the path of art despite its difficulties, he replied:
“I often question life and art in deep ways. My conclusion is always that I need to be happy in my life. What makes me happy is not wealth or honor. What I value the most is art, and so this is the path I will continue to take.”
The young artist spoke of his happiness with confidence, as his eyes shone with his dreams.