The horse is a champion, the winner of Emperor’s Cup in Japan. The strength and power of this animal is clearly evident in its muscularity, the strength of its big head. The head is dangerous. I’ve seen him use it on his trainer. It was early morning and he hadn’t slept well. The trainer was fighting with him over getting a halter on him. It seemed like a small shake of his head, but it knocked the man off his feet and sent him sprawling. Yet when he looks at you there is innocence in his eyes. I consider him a friend of mine. Depending on his mood, he’ll acknowledge that.
The woman pouring tea is dimly seen, silhouetted, by the sunlight behind her. It is hard to make out her expression. The steam from her pots fills the room, obscures parts of her. The shards of light reflect from her glass teapot; she pours her tea smoothly and steadily from a golden pot. The warmth of the wall embraces her. She does not look up. She is lost in thought. The withered leaves of the plant behind her speak of advancing age. Some of them have fallen to the shelf. Yet the sun lights her hair. It seems to caress her. It catches the light of the thin stream of light she pours. She has time to live.
The second studio hangs at the very edge of a cliff. The sea climbs the back of some ragged rocks below, but falls away. They are blacker than they ought to be. LIke almost all the rocks on the island their volcanic sharpness defines them. Without wear they remain as they once cooled. As the foam parts, brilliant as a sunlit cloud, it leaves the rocks below wetter, but otherwise as they've always been. From a cliff above the studio, the sea is a mosaic of alternate greens seen through a tangle of cypress. It's lit like a stain glass window at Mont Saint-Michel.
This horse knows it’s beautiful. He takes every opportunity of showing you his beauty while pretending there is no one around to see him. I met him in Mexico. The first thing he showed me is how fast he could run and how quickly he could change course and what his flying mane looked like in the wind. Then he would stop behind some trees and peek through them to see if I was still watching. He’d emerge from the shade and begin a series of poses. He was like a fashion model. He took great advantage of his color with the sun on it. The reds of his coat linked with reds outlining the trees. All of it is set against some optimistic greens. He’s a young animal. Life will never get better.
Near a cliff that drops to the sea a young cypress bends to the prevailing wind. He’s almost alone in his fight for life. He shares the space with a scrub of weeds and rocks. It’s rare when there is no wind in Jeju, but the day I found him this was the case. Still he bows to it, like the ahjeema in the market who is permanently stooped from her work in rice paddies and the fields. Like her, he can no longer straighten. He stands alone in his scrubland, his bent back to the prevailing wind, even when it’s not blowing.
This painting is in the sky behind her. It’s in her stance, legs planted on the rock, the roped gourd, her diving float, at her feet.
The rhythm of tide, the dance of the sea, the play of water and rocks are echoed in the children’s play as they throw rocks into a tide pool at their feet. The colors of their dresses sound and reverberate in distant waters. There’s music to be heard in animated forms of the models, lost and found edges, contrasting darks.
Is it the moon or sun that rests on the horizon, the end of the world or the beginning? The fishermen stand in silhouette in the surf as though something momentous has happened, or will happen. They have forgotten their fish. They wait and watch. The composition is based on the strength of a pyramid, as though what they see or fear is monumental. In the next few moments something will happen here. Something will or has changed forever. But what?
The two water carriers are in ancient Korean dress. They stand at the edge of a waterfall, the top of the cliff lit by a glimpse of sunlight. They stand barefoot in water the colored by the flat prehistoric stone beneath them. They are local girls in costume. But standing there in that place they become the product of the volcanic earth that has sustained islanders for centuries.
For the yearlings it is the best of times. It is too early to train. The men that care for them are still distant figures that come and go at no regular intervals. Their trucks and tractors leave imprints in the grass behind them, shaping the meadow into the bowl hat cradles them. They are free to play and to be watched over by their attentive mother. It’s early spring and the meadows are coloring with tender grass. Their future is uncertain. It lies somewhere beyond the fence and the distant woods behind that. For now that isn’t important.
The beach is named after the model painted here. Though officially it’s something else far less memorable. She made the place hers when she strolled passed me that morning. Everything worked. The warms and cools of her long white dress and floppy hat, the sun’s reflection on the water, the multi-colored sky. The black rocks, her black hair.
A talented ballerina from Molsulpo, holds what may be the world’s ugliest fruit. Though fragrant, it has an oily skin and bitter taste. It doesn’t look like something you want to pick up in you hands. A blue ceramic bowl contains the fruit. It’s on a table beside her. She wears a dress of soft blue, around her waist a billowy silk apron. She caresses the fruit and seems lost in thought. She brings the beauty it never will have to it.
The cow is not tethered. The painting has liberated her from that. As it is, she stands in the cool green of her pasture amid biting flies. They are invisible to an old man, but very real to her. She makes good use of her tail, more of an instrument than appendage. She sweeps it alternately across her flanks, but it is not enough. She tries to swing her head to bite at her tormentors. The lead is too short. In anger she lifts a rear leg against a bite, as a dog might scratch a flea. It's a clumsy, unfitting move, clearly ineffective. She straightens, shakes her handsome head and looks at me like a disappointed lover. Plainly, she is an islander. It is more than disposition. Her coloration and texture mark her as one of an old herd. Had they been around twenty thousand years ago, my ancestor would have certainly chosen to represent this one on a cave wall. The ochre-sienna color he'd use would have been dug from the ground and tempered by the juice of red berries. She'd have looked good on that wall, still, timeless - stoic even - among the charging and fleeing animals pictured there. For now she studies me with that unblinking eye. Had I come to free her, take her into the shade? Clearly not. She bows to the grass, tears and chews thoughtfully.
The model poses in the studio before a bowl of mogah fruit. There are paintings and books. A ladder leads to another floor or high ceiling above her. The cast shadows of her hands play on a felt tablecloth. The focus of the painting is her summer hat, built from thick, seemingly careless swipes of paint. Her face, half concealed, gives her an air of mystery, as do the lost darks of the studio behind her. Her dark velvet dress is dated by nearly a century.