Min-hwa literally means “the people’s painting” and this term eventually encompassed the types of folk painting that became popular among non-aristocratic circles in the late Joseon era in Korea (17th-19th C). Minhwa paintings were rooted in the folk beliefs and folklore of Korea, which blended Shamanistic, Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian iconography. Compared to the fine art painting of the Korean literati,Minhwa artists reveled in detail and brilliant colors and left the works unsigned. While some were produced by Court painters for royal or aristocratic commissions, far more were by itinerant journeymen or amateurs. As heavily symbolic compositions, flamboyant depictions of objects, animals, and mythological creatures express patrons’ desire and longing for happiness and fortune and such often acted as domestic talismans to ward off evil spirits and to invoke blessings on the household. These paintings were used as decorative backdrops and hangings in interior spaces, ranging from the throne room of the royal palace to the bedroom of a newlywed bride and were also pasted to the front of doors and gates.
The practice of Minhwa continues in Korea to this day and contemporary practitioners of Minhwa sustain the ancient symbolic conventions and traditional techniques of painting as a vital part of traditional Korean culture. Works are painted on hanji (a traditional form paper made with the pulp of the inner bark of the Paper Mulberrry tree) using ink produced by grinding an inkstick on an inkstone to sketch and outline the composition and ground pigments suspended in a gum Arabic solution (a form of watercolor like gouache) are used to paint in the vibrant colors and deep shading.
Featuring selected works from the “Minhwa, Paintings Which Bring Happiness” show at the Korean Cultural Center Los Angeles, presented by the Hongik Minhwa Design Institute and Show Mee Festival Group, this exhibition is planned in conjunction with a lecture and demonstrations at Michigan (see below for details).
Image: Yi, Ki Sun. Chaekkeori (Paintings of Bookshelves). Watercolor on paper.
Korean Folk Art Association