|▲ Nakjukjang Kim Gi-chan doing the traditional bamboo pyrography at his gallery|
Many regions in Korea have their own characteristic art with a long history. Namdo, the southern part of the Korean peninsula, also has their own special art called nakjuk, bamboo pyrography, which has been developed only in this region since bamboos are raised in warm weather. To experience the traditional Korean handicraft of our region, Tribune reporters visited Nakjukjang, master artisan of nakjuk, Kim Gi-chan’s art gallery located in Bosung-gun. Designated as National Intangible Cultural Heritage No.31, he has been doing the art for 35 years. This Tribune reporter appreciated many of his artworks in the gallery and then learned how to make a nakjuk craftwork from him.
What Is Nakjuk?
Nakjuk is a Korean traditional pyrography art work which engraves pictures and words on the surface of bamboo with a hot iron. The traditional art which has its origin in China has developed since the Joseon Dynasty in Korea and has been passed down from generation to generation. In the past, people used a variety of practical things with nakjuk, such as a folding fan, a wide-tooth comb (eollebit in Korean), a writing brush and a pencil vase. The majority of drawings and letterings engraved on bamboos were Korean traditional patterns including flowers and symbols with various meanings. Now, the demand of such products has decreased, and each nakjuk pattern currently depends on the person who draws a picture and writes words.
|▲ Ink brushes decorated with nakjuk|
The main material for doing the artwork is a piece of bamboo as a drawing sheet, while sub materials could be anything including other kinds of trees and strings. Two hot irons and heated charcoal are also essential. The hot iron functions like a pen to draw and write something on the bamboos. It is thick and big, but its tip is fine so as to draw. The two heated irons are required to be used in turn to maintain the temperature of the iron. Before starting to draw a picture, it is important to choose bamboos when the materials are boiled and roasted, old bamboos can be broken and young bamboos would shrivel. The main material conditions determine the quality of the finished craftworks. The criteria for choosing a piece of bamboo is different for each artisan but commonly the most important criteria for choosing bamboos are their age and trait. Therefore, bamboos of the proper age are needed and hard ones with proper moisture are recommended.
Pyrography Remains Forever
In order to do nakjuk successfully fire is needed to engrave something on a round bamboo. When the power pressing a hot iron is too strong, the surface of the bamboo becomes black. If the power is too weak, engraving is impossible. This reporter decided to experience nakjuk with a pencil vase made of bamboo. Nakjukjang Kim explained the right posture in doing the traditional bamboo pyrography, and gave a demonstration with a fast and delicate touch. After seeing his demonstration, I sat with a straightened back, put two hands on my knees and held a hot iron with my right hand while holding the bamboo pencil vase with my left hand. Then, I held the heated iron to give it a try.
|▲ A Tribune reporter drawing a picture on the surface of bamboo with a hot iron|
I tried to draw pretty patterns like him at first, but I soon gave up because I realized that it was different from drawing on paper. Drawing on the curved surface of the bamboo was difficult since I needed to move both my hands to draw rapidly and accurately using the iron. The most attractive part of this handicraft that I found was that there is no eraser in doing nakjuk. When a pyrography design was engraved, no one can try to remove the work. With this feature, this artwork would remain forever as long as the bamboo remains. After having an experience of traditional bamboo pyrography, I felt that this craftwork is like our life, as John W. Gardner’s said “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.”
Traditional Art Is Not Always Old
Nakjukjang Kim is the one who helped me to break my stereotype about old artisans who do traditional artworks. Before I met him, I thought they might not like changes and only pursued old and traditional things. However, after talking with him, I found myself enjoying listening to his new creative ideas. He is not just drawing old things on a piece of bamboo, he is expressing himself in his art works in modern designs and styles. One of the most impressive artworks of his was a piece that he did using nakjuk on a musical note made with bamboo. He explained that he has made many musical note shaped art works these days to express pleasure and joy. It was amazing that he can combine his new ideas and imagination with traditional ways. Nakjuk is no longer an old-fashioned art for me. It will always be remembered as a brand-new art which keeps developing in itself.
[Interview: Nakjukjang Kim Gi-chan]
|▲ Nakjukjang Kim Gi-chan|
“Enjoying My Life, by Loving Nakjuk”
What does nakjuk mean to you?
Nakjuk is not just my job. It has become a part of my life and myself. I was learning Korean painting when a jandojang, artisan making traditional encased ornamental knives, in Gwangyang suggested to me to learn techniques of nakjuk. That is when I started doing the artwork. Now that many years have passed, it became more fun since more people recognize and appreciate my works. I have been publishing my own book annually since 2010. It is about my artworks and writings each year. I am glad that I am an expert now and that many people recognize me.
When is the proudest moment?
When people recognize me. I have lots of experience of being interviewed. I was on the cover of the monthly magazine of the Cultural Heritage Administration a few years ago. And I was invited to various exhibitions abroad. That way, I was able to open my own gallery in Korea, while traveling to other countries for free. Also, since I am the only National Intangible Cultural Heritage in this field in Namdo, there are sometimes requests from the government such as reproducing some old woks of the Koryo Dynasty which are historically important relics.
What do you expect from your successors?
It is very different between considering this as a job and a hobby. I hope my successors can consider being a nakjukjang as a job and are able to earn money by doing it. If they cannot earn money, it is impossible for them to keep doing this artwork. The reason why I could maintain my job was that I was sponsored by the Cultural Heritage Administration. I hope it can also be possible for my successors.
|▲ Traditional patterns of nakjuk on the handles of teapots|
By Lee So-hyun, Tribune Reporter
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