Ku Ponung (구본웅, 具本雄) (1906–1953) By Lee, Jungsil Jenny
Ku Ponung was a modern artist and critic active during the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War. Due to his spine curvature and eccentric personality, Ku was likened to the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) and called “The Seoul Lautrec.” Ku attended the Taiheiyō School of Fine Arts in Tokyo, where he was introduced to Fauvism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, and other modern Western art styles. He later pioneered the acceptance of these styles in Korea.
Many of Ku’s oil paintings were lost during the Korean War, but several portraits and still lifes survive. Ku worked closely with contemporaneous writers, and his friendship with the modern poet Yi Sang is well known. Ku also edited and published the literary magazine Ch’ŏngsaekchi. After the liberation of Korea from Japan in 1945, Ku worked to revitalize Korean art by experimenting with various formats and media, including traditional ink painting and newspaper illustration. His attempt at artistic revival continued, even during the turmoil of the Korean War.