Yi Chung-sŏp (1916–1956) By Lee, Jungsil Jenny
Yi Chung-sŏp was a modern Korean painter known for his expressionist style. Yi’s painting was strongly influenced by the brushwork of Korean painting and calligraphy but also by the bold black contours in the work of George Rouault (1871–1958), to the extent that Yi was called ‘‘Bunka’s Rouault.’’ In 1937, Yi went to Tokyo, where he entered the private Imperial Art School (now Musashino Art School) and then the Cultural School (Bunka Gakuin). At the latter, Yi studied with Tsuda Seishu (1907–1952), an avant-garde artist who helped Yi to realize the value of Korean traditional aesthetics and who encouraged him to integrate a Korean spirit into his art. With the advent of the Korean War in 1950, Yi fled south with his family. In the following years, despite Yi’s financial and psychological difficulties, he produced a large number of works in an expressionist style. In Japan, Yi was active in such avant-garde exhibitions as Dokuritsuten and Jiyuten from 1938 to 1943, winning recognition in the main art circles in Tokyo. In 1941, Yi joined several other Korean artists active in Tokyo to establish the strongly nationalistic Chosŏn New Artist Society [Chosŏn Shinmisulga Hyŏphŏe]. Once he returned to Korea, Yi suffered from extreme poverty as a result of the Korean War, to the extent that he could not support his family, who then went back to Japan. His first and last solo exhibition was held in Seoul in 1955.