The woodcut ‘Construction of DaeTaRyong Street’ is part of the Koryo Studio collection. It is dated 1961 and signed and stamped by Pae Un Song.
It is a style pushing the edges of what would have been acceptable as North Korea allowed only socialist realism representation to the exclusion of all other art forms. All artworks should be easily understood with a clear message accesible to the common person, and Pae’s work with its beautiful flowing cuts is probably as far as he could push the genre.
The piece measures 24.5 x 35cm and is hand coloured in ink wash.
Horses and carts are on the periphery of the scene with workers and a deliberately illegible slogan.
Much of the work represented would have been done manually and this is shown in the mid-ground.
In the background, we see the subject matter of the artwork, the construction of Khrushchyovka apartments.
This is an unofficial name for a type of low-cost, concrete-panelled, low-rise apartment building which were developed in the Soviet Union during the early 1960s. Thus named for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev who directed the development of these rapidly-built apartments.
Pae Un Song, the first Korean artist to study in Europe, is known in North Korea as the father of woodcuts.
Frank Hoffman is a specialist in the artist and his summary makes for fascinating reading;
“He earned several international awards and his works, mainly woodcuts, were reproduced in a number of leading European fashion and art journals. He also worked for the Japanese Embassy and the German-Japanese Society in Berlin, and was one of a handful of Asian artists to have been published in Nazi publications as late as 1937; he may have been the only Korean ever to have had the dubious honour of having a private audience with Hitler.
He married a German woman of an aristocratic family (von Wrede) with whom he had a daughter. Eventually, they emigrated to France, where he subsequently deserted his family to return to Korea in 1941. After Liberation, Pae became the first dean of the Art Department of what is now Hongik University in Seoul. He remarried a young leftist Korean woman and withdrew to the North during the Korean War.
From 1951 to 1956 Pae worked as a professor at the Pyŏngyang University of Fine Arts. He also worked at the Kaesŏng Fine Arts School, but around 1970 he was arrested for allegedly spying for the Americans. He was rehabilitated shortly thereafter but was forced to move to Sinŭiju, where his family still lives today. In his later years, he was honoured with the highest art prizes.”