Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Pioneer In Korean Sacred Art

One of the early Korean artists who was a pioneer in sacred art was Louis Pal Chang (1901-2001).The Catholic Times brings him to our attention in their series of articles on the Third Order of St. Francis. He became a Tertiary while in the United States, majoring in art at Columbia University.  It was at this time that he became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, following his older brother John Chang, who was the premier of the country before his civilian government was toppled by Park Chung-hee.

When Louis Chang returned to Korea from the US in 1925 he was already a leader in art education and administration. He laid the foundation for religious art in Korea, and with other artists, after the liberation, had the first sacred art exhibition in the country.  He started the art department at Seoul University and became its first president.

Many of his works, appearing in churches, convents and monasteries, were made for churches in the North, but only one has survived. In 1960, at the building of Hei Hwa Dong Church, he gathered  his students and was in charge of the plans for the church, and for selecting the sculptures.  This is the first Church built without the help of foreign missioners, and it is universally admired for its beauty.

When Korea had  no appreciation of inculturation in art, Louis Chang was depicting Jesus and Mary not only in Korean dress but with the colors and composition used in the traditional technique. He  followed  the iconography manner of painting but  developed a Korean type of icon.

Because of the difficulties experienced by his older brother and the turbulent situation in the country, he left for the  United States in 1964. While there he taught and continued painting until his death. He did return many times during his  years in the States for exhibitions and church events. He was selected in 1996 as "a great man of Seoul" and his sculptured bust can be see on campuses.

Louis Chang Pal passed away on April 8 a few days after his one-hundredth birthday. An exhibition was planed to celebrate his 100 birthday in the Korean Cultural Center gallery of New York but he died a month before the planned exhibition.

The Cathedral church in Seoul has his portrait of the twelve apostles with Paul and Barnabas, which he painted in 1926. He is one of the few who attended both the beatification ceremonies of the 79 in 1925 in Rome and of the 103 who were canonized in 1988. The painting in the Cathedral, begun after his return from Rome in 1925, is considered the first painting to be placed in a sanctuary of a Korean Catholic Church. 

Pal Chang was a deeply spiritual artist and a precursor in the sacred art of Korea, transcending in his art the distinction between East and West. He will be remembered fondly and many of his works inspiring our new sacred artists.

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