The Great Calligrapher, Kim Jeong-hui


The Famous Calligraphy Style, Chusache
For Koreans today who use the native alphabet Hangul, ancestral handwriting in Chinese may appear about the same in style. Yet Chusa Kim Jeong-hui’s handwriting attracts attention at a glance with its strong individuality. Known as Chusache, Kim Jeong-hui’s handwriting is characterized by powerful strokes, angular lines, varied line thickness, and distinctive spatial composition. Kim Jeong-hui maximizes the pictorial quality inherent to Chinese characters through Chusache, a product of his life of suffering.

A Natural Gift of Calligraphy
Kim Jeong-hui was born in 1786 in Yesan County, South Chungcheong province as a descendant of the Gyeongju Kim clan, a powerful noble family in the late Joseon Period. Kim Jeong-hui showed signs of genius at an early age. When he was 7 years old, Kim Jeong-hui wrote a phrase celebrating the onset of spring and posted it outside the gate of his house. His handwriting was so excellent that when Chae Je-gong, a celebrated Prime Minister during King Jeongjo’s reign, passed by Kim Jeong-hui’s house, he looked upon it with admiration. The famous Silhak scholar Park Je-ga also saw his writing and expressed his desire to teach the child when he grew older. Eight years later, Kim Jeong-hui became a pupil of Park Je-ga.

Building the Foundation of Chusache
Studying under Park, a prominent figure in the Northern School of Silhak, Kim Jeong-hui advocated for reform through the acceptance of foreign culture along with scholars Hong Dae-yong and Park Ji-won. At the age of 24, Kim Jeong-hui passed the classics licentiate exam and went to the Qing Dynasty with his father. It was a golden opportunity for Kim Jeong-hui who had always dreamed of learning and experiencing the civilization of Qing Dynasty. Kim Jeong-hui associated with some of the greatest Confucianist scholars Ruan Yuan (완원) and Cao Jiang (조강) as well as the famous scholar and calligrapher Fanggang Weng, and studied Qing Confucianism. Furthermore, he was able to broaden his knowledge by studying the rubbings of Chinese inscriptions from the Han Dynasty. When he was 31 years old, Kim Jeong-hui revealed that the Bukhansan Monument’s inscription celebrates the territorial expansion of the Silla King Jinheung, establishing himself as an expert in epigraphy. Kim Jeonghui became an intellectual representative of 19th Century Asia for his studies and accomplishments in various disciplines including Chinese classics, Buddhism, Literature and Art.

Kim Jeong-hui made a smooth transition into government service and took the position of Vice-Minister of War at the height of his career. However, he became the victim of a factional quarrel in 1840 and was banished to Jeju Island. He was sentenced the most severe kind of exile, where he was enclosed in a thorn hedge. During this time of hardship, Kim Jeong-hui produced his best works of art.

Art Perfected in Solitude
Kim Jeong-hui spent 9 years in exile, fighting solitude by engrossing himself into his art. After using up a thousand brushes and ten inkstones, each of which he had pierced a hole at the bottom from continuous use, Kim Jeong-hui finally mastered Chusache. In Chusache, Kim Jeong-hui’s handwriting reached the level where letters became poetry and poetry became painting. On canvas, Kim portrayed his inner world and displayed the representative style of literary artists. The most representative work of Kim Jeong-hui is ‘Sehando,’ which is praised as the best painting in the Korean literary artist’s style.

In 1849, Kim Jeong-hui was freed from exile but two years later, he was sent back to exile in today’s South Hamgyeong province. Kim Jeong-hui spent his later years in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi province and died at the age of 71. Yet his life is not remembered as one of resentment and sorrow. As a renowned calligrapher, artist, scholar, poet and writer, Kim Jeong-hui put his life into his works, which continues to carry his heart and soul to this day.

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