It is as yet in the middle of November and we have already had snow in Korea. I hear people saying that this winter’s going to be bone-chilling cold. Just like every year of this time, we need to prepare ourselves for the winter: thick coats, boots, gloves, scarves and hand creams. Due to the climactic dryness brought in by continental high pressure all through the autumn and early winter my hands are already dry and chapped like some wild land that did not get rain for months.
I have travelled extensively to many countries in several continents in different seasons, so I think I can tell something about the weather, and I consider the Korean weather and season as something distinctive. We have on one hand intensely hot and humid tropical summer and on the other hand bitter and almost arctic coldness with much snow and ice in winter. That’s why Koreans in the old times seemed to have learnt not a little wisdom from looking at the nature and going through the change of seasons. I myself love how the weather changes, even though I would complain about the mosquitoes in summer and the frosts on my feet in winter. In any case I learn to embrace whatever we have when it comes. Complaining would not get to anywhere for the seasons will keep changing no matter what.
When I first saw the paintings by Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525 –1569) in spring, 2011 in Vienna after being pounded with endless religious paintings in the museum, I was particularly drawn to the series on the yearly seasons. Dutch weathers and seasons are not like those in Korea. Nevertheless, I enjoyed looking at the ‘golden sea’, as I put it to describe the beautiful but somewhat lonesome fields gone gold with ripen crops in autumn, in The Harvesters (1565). The landscape was very different from that of Korea, but the way people enjoy picnics and the way birds carelessly fly around are the same. Above all, it made me feel calm to look at this painting.
There was also The Gloomy Day (1565), where boney branches of the trees on a grey day with presumably strong wind and the small boats on the shoreline struggling to balance reminded me, except, of course, the mountains on the top left, of the cold and wet winter days I spent in England. How cold it must be, how chilly it must be! I sometimes thought it better for the temperature to drop below zero and start snowing than having grey chilly and rainy days in winter. As if to respond to what I was thinking, there was Hunters in the Snow (1565), where we see the hunters coming back to the village in deep snow and ice-covered land. Perhaps it is not much better than the grey and chilly days of earlier one after all.
After seeing those wonderful work pieces it occurred to me that I would like to do the same kind of paintings myself, not with seasons but with different ages of people or rather ‘stages’ of people. From sometime after passing my mid-twenties, I do not count my age as it is. I thought that in the way we say when we become one year older every 12-month is rather strict and too frequent. I count the age from 1 to 10 as 1-year-old, 11 to 20, 2 years old, 21 to 30, 3 years old, and so on. Many of people who heard about this idea of mine liked it. Now I say that I am 3 years old. A lady who is in her fifties likes to say that she is only 6 years old. Unlike the seasons, there is no ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ of age. There are pros and cons, for sure, but who can really say one age is better than the other.
first draft of “One Year” (2012) of Nine Ages, A Series, by Tcha. K
Seasons change and people are different in choosing the season one likes. Some people prefer the spring season when the flowers start to blossom, whereas some others prefer autumn when Nature dyes leaves with some gorgeous colours and then the leaves fall off. Seasons are recurrent. I was not in Korea last autumn so I missed it, but this year I am here and have enjoyed all the stages of our long autumn season. We tend to care about our age far too much. It is only once when you are 21 years old. It is also only once that you are 30 years old. To live in the society and be part of it, it would be far better to do things that you are supposed to do at your age. Nevertheless, that should not be the golden rule of life. As with seasons, sometimes you miss one season but you can have it again the next year or the year after. Recently, a close friend of mine who is in his mid-40s called me to say that he is re-applying college. I exclaimed, “That’s wonderful!” I didn’t say that just to be polite. I was really happy for him.
Somebody from one of the ‘real variety shows’ on TV said the old saying of “It’s never too late” is just gibberish. He says, “When it’s late, it IS late.” I was laughing at this remark at that time but I don’t agree with his idea. Equality does not mean that everyone possesses two-storied house or a Mercedes Benz. It means that we can have a hope and dream as long as we can. Changing seasons teaches us that life is not on a straight line from number 0 to 100. I believe that life is a continuation of certain changing colours and lines and that even though we are affected by those changes we are in the end part of it.
Painting is a language without boundaries, and colours and lines are like words. Nature is truly a colossal painting. Everyone, whatever circumstances he or she is situated in, will always be part, at some time or other, of the lines and colours in this huge and wild painting.