Friday, May 25, 2012

Yi Kwang-su Portrait by Billy Childish

Yi Kwang-su
Billy Childish

A Korea Herald article by Lee Woo-young ("British artist brings two celebrated Korean writers into his world," May 24, 2012) caught my attention yesterday, for it introduced me to the British artist Billy Childish, whose painting of the Korean novelist Yi Kwang-su is reproduced above. The article tells us:
The multi-talented British artist Billy Childish sheds new light on . . . Yi Kwang-su . . . at his first exhibition in Seoul . . . . Studying the . . . literary works and life, Childish has translated the . . . artistic agonies into [a portrait] . . . . Childish . . . has captured the suffering [that] the [writer] . . . might have endured during the turbulent years of the late Joseon period and the Japanese colonial era between the late 1890s and 1945.

"Yi Kwang-su's life seems to be very much like that of some important European writers who have been at first uplifted, then dropped for their supposed collaboration with an occupying enemy -- I'm thinking of L.F. Celine, and Knut Hamsun in particular. I love those writers, and Yi Kwang-su seems to be a parallel," Childish said.

Yi Kwang-su is famous for his novel "Heartless," regarded as Korea's first modern work of fiction. But he was at the same time criticized as pro-Japanese during Japanese rule.

This grabbed my attention because my wife and I translated Yi Kwang-su's novel The Soil on a grant from the Korea Literature Translation Institute (KLTI) over a year ago, and the effort got me interested in this novelist . . . not that I know very much about the man. The exhibition of the portrait and other works by Childish looks interesting, and I might try to go if I can find time by June 3, closing date for the exhibition, "Strange Bravery," at the Gallery Hyundai in Jongno, Seoul.

As for our translation of The Soil, it received some encouraging words from one of the judges, who wrote, "The translator is a master of the English style," but we don't know if any publishers in the States see a market for this novel in the English-speaking world, though the KLTI seeks publishers of novels translated on its grants.

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