One of these days a racing boat was sailing down the Taedong River, catching the eye of an elderly man standing on the deserted promenade. It was Won Yong Son, 80, a Merited Artist. The boat sliding over the water surface left waves of memory in his mind…
Won was born in Songchon County, South Phyongan Province before his country was liberated from the Japanese military occupation (August 15, 1945). In his childhood when he played on the Piryu riverside, he used to find a white sailing boat so beautiful. In particular, he was so excited and full of ambition, though so young, when he saw the boat navigating vigorously with the white sail wide open against the glowing sky at sunset. Hence the first picture he drew in a bright classroom after liberation was a boat on the river. Still he did not imagine that the drawing would become a decisive one in his life.
The day he was complimented by his teacher on his picture, he decided in the evening to draw everything he would find beautiful. His teacher took special care of him and was assiduous to help him with his drawing. It wasn’t the technique alone that he learned from his teacher in those days. The teacher often told Won that Korea was called golden tapestry of three thousand ri from of old and that he should work hard to develop the liberated country that had been trampled down by the Japanese imperialists. Viewing the land with the eye, Won found many things worth being represented—fertile paddy-fields that now belonged to the peasants, his father making a smile while tilling his land for the first time in his life, the village path along which villagers returned home with their oxen singing Peasant’s Song pleasantly and a puppy running merrily ahead of them and skylarks chirping in the sky. As he drew those things, he came to nurture, though young, the love for the beautiful mountains and streams of his country. He gradually decided to become a favourite artist of the people by depicting everything in the country vividly. He was buoyed up by the dream.
The Korean war (1950–1953) unleashed by the US imperialists was really an unexpected blow to him. But the small boat cherished in his heart was sailing more vigorously powered by the fervent sympathy for the reality and love for the country and people. He gradually became interested in sculpture and the heroes of his works were the villagers who turned out in all-people resistance to defend their homeland. Peasant Pulling a Cannon, part of the sculpture group of the Grand Monument on Mansu Hill (established in 1972), later appreciated by President Kim Il Sung and Chairman Kim Jong Il, was a typical example of his work based on his personal experience during the war.
After the war he rose into prominence in ceramics as well by representing the merits of the national culture. Ceramics was a new branch he chose to repay the benefit of the country that appointed him in his early twenties as member of the Mansudae Art Studio, one of the authoritative artistic groups of the nation. He wanted to create immortal works that are dedicated to the show of the brilliant realities in every decade of socialist construction. The principle he adhered to was to create things of greater harmonious beauty while preserving the style of Koryo celadon that has a long history and the elegance of the white porcelain created during the feudal Joson dynasty. As for colour he decided to develop a pleasant emotion by combining the traditional tone that gives a sense of stability with vivid, deep and bright colours. He tried particularly to make a copy of daily life and ensure practical utility as well as artistic interest as much as possible. That led him to creation of porcelain of unique attraction.
His achievement is to be seen in the fact that dozens of his works have been listed as articles in the State possession, bringing him prizes at each of the dozens of national art exhibitions. He is now devoting, though well over 60, himself to the work of training young artists while producing new works. This shows that the small boat cherished in his heart in his childhood has now become a giant steamship of patriotism.
His works are great favourites of the public.
“In his works I felt anew our national aroma, our soil scent and clarity of our blue sky. Seeing the works I am proud of being Korean. Indeed I feel as if I had been to parts of our beautiful country.”
“I am impressed by the beautiful, soft colours and traditional patterns. They are wonderful.”
These are some statements made by overseas Koreans and foreigners looking round Won’s private exhibition opened in 2004. An Yong Gi, a former unconverted long-term prisoner and a calligrapher, also appreciated his works, saying, “Every work he created after the traditions of Koryo celadon and white porcelain of the feudal Joson dynasty shows the creative zeal and patriotism he has kept for dozens of years. Its delicacy and harmony of various colours imbued with the national soul are leading people to ecstasy.”
A voice was now calling in the heart of the veteran artist who was looking at the sailing boat that was coming back past the turn.
Now they say I’ve made a unique dedication to glorifying the traditional culture of the nation. But my works are the fruits of our national character and socialist reality. As long as they are there for me, I’m sure my boat of hope will be able to sail on and on.
An article by Kim Chol Ung.