All that glitters is the gold of South Korean artist Kim Il Tae’s artworks - GulfToday

All that glitters is the gold of South Korean artist Kim Il Tae’s artworks

artist Kim 2

Kim Il Tae has titled this work The Eternity of Love.

Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer

The Karnak Meeting Room of Raffles, Dubai, is displaying the works of contemporary South Korean artist Kim Il Tae (Jan. 22 — Feb. 22). Organisers Saeel Bin Rabbaa (UAE) and Philip Shin (South Korea) and curators Natalya Andakulova (art historian and founder of Andakulova Gallery, Dubai) and Aleksandra Timorina (art historian, international art manager and founder of Alexandra Gallery), have joined hands for the event. Kim is renowned for using the purest gold as the main feature of his artworks. He creates his pieces in 24 karat gold — considered the most refined form of the yellow metal — with 999 parts per thousand of gold. No other medium will do for him, as he intends to make an “indelible” mark and leave the world with works of art that last forever — the kind that will not fade or crack or crumble with time or, in his own words, “something that will last for 1,000 years”.

Oil painting will lose its original sheen and also cracks over time. However, Kim’s pure gold art has no issue with the problem of perishability. His works, he feels, will spread and share the feeling of wealth, abundance, happiness and benevolence to the world for all times to come. Their spirit, he knows and so do his admirers, will be passed on from generation to generation, and remain unchanged. Gold has held a very special place in human life for millennia. Comparing it to the mighty sun, the Incas called gold the ‘tears of the sun’. Its yellow hue is the Royal colour in Brunei, Malaysia and Thailand. The sun-coloured metal is seen as being synonymous with power and beauty and has found all-round cultural acceptance. The most notable among modern artists who used it in his works is the Austrian Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). During his ‘golden phase’, Klimt created a series of gold leaf paintings which include his world-famous masterpiece, the ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ — which was renamed ‘The Lady in Gold’.


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Unlike those who have produced gilded paintings, Kim’s work is made with no nonsense, 24 karat, gold. He has dedicated over a decade of his life to masterfully manipulating the medium — melding pure gold with natural oils — to perfect his technique. He first toyed with the idea of golden art out of desperation. He had made it to America as an artist, but was struggling to make a name for himself. His art teacher mother, who had spent 36 years encouraging students to risk the path less travelled, suggested painting in gold. Not gold leaf or gold foil, but with the actual malleable, ductile, material itself. It was completely unheard of then – and perhaps now. Kim, the gold-artist-aspirant, became an amateur alchemist, taking seven years to perfect a secret mixture of 24 karat gold powder, natural oil and a glue of his own making, having taken up his mother’s challenge.

artist Kim 1  A composition by South Korean artist Kim Il Tae.

He then spent several more years practicing with the finest red clay from the southwest province of South Jeolla, in his home country. It was been a devoted struggle, and blood, sweat and tears took a toll on him. But that was not the end of the story. Market trends now hang over him like a Damocles sword. As the global market turns its attention towards non fungible tokens (NFT) catching the attention of enthusiasts everywhere, including the UAE, it begs the question whether non-digital art still has the same attraction it had.

But he does not yield ground — when people ask him about the weight of gold used in each painting with a view to assessing the “true value” of the artwork, Kim would say that if it was gold they were looking for, they should really get hold of a gold bar or coin instead. He is right to feel offended: he wants people to consider the novelty and the skill behind each work of his, wherein lies its true value. They should therefore not be appraised for just their value in gold. Gold and art are two precious and valuable things, each with its own individual merit. And when they come together as in Kim’s artworks, it is a double delight. He first caused ripples in the Korean art scene in 2011. At his inaugural private exhibition in Insa-dong, an arts and culture district in Seoul, a metal detector was deployed to verify the purity of the gold used.

artist Kim 3  Kim Il Tae before one of his works.

The investigator ultimately realised it was art, and allowed the show to proceed. It was creative disruption at its best! Since that initial alarm, Kim’s extraordinary paintings have caught the imagination of the Korean public and that of the global audience. He has the distinction of being the only artist in the world who paints and sculpts in pure gold. To date, he has held over 20 exhibitions in regions spanning Tokyo, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Yangon and Los Angeles. More are planned in the near future at other venues.

The highlight of his career includes a two-week solo exhibition in 2016 at London’s Saatchi, a gallery renowned for exhibiting only the finest works in contemporary art. It was always in Kim’s mind to distinguish himself from Western artists. He might be a hostage to Western technical flair, but has found that gold is a suitable medium to project Eastern philosophy. His works are found in closely-held private collections and in institutional holdings internationally.

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