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Painting with the Body: Works by Disabled Artist Chang-Woo Seok Shine in Washington DC

Painting may not be the first choice of hobby for a man with no arms, but, then again, Chang-Woo Seok is no ordinary man. 


At the opening reception of his latest exhibit, The World of Line, Ink, and Nude by Chang-Woo Seok, now on display at the Korean Cultural Center Washington DC through June 8, the artist demonstrated his very personal technique, making use of his prosthetic limbs to grasp a brush and his torso movement to paint across a room-sized canvas of traditional Korean paper, spread across the gallery floor. With no chance to correct mistakes, as is the nature of ink and paper artwork, Seok’s master strokes need no adjustment.


Local artist Sarah Kim, who helped organize the exhibit and bring Seok to the United States, said that Seok’s mindset is part of his artwork in her welcoming remarks.


“Mr. Seok is an inspiration to all of us,” Kim said, “with his tough mental attitude and positive outlook on life, allowing him to overcome his accident.”


In 1984, Chang-Woo Seok’s first career as an electrical engineer ended abruptly with a 22,000-volt shock that nearly killed him. The accident forced the complete amputation of both arms and two toes. Seeking to rebuild his life, Seok took up Korean calligraphy and traditional ink and paper artwork, with the use of special attachments developed for his prosthetic arms. For more than 20 years since, he has developed a unique method and style that strives to capture the movement and form of the human body, in defiance of his physical disability.


Kim also paid tribute to Seok’s inspiration and foundation, his family.


“We should also take a moment to celebrate the lady by his side, who, along with his children, has stood by him through thick and thin.


“Mrs. Seok is a great example of the strong spirit of the Korean woman. It is because of the love of his family, that we are blessed with the opportunity to enjoy his unique and moving artwork.”


“The arts in Korea today are often characterized by a unique dynamism,” said Korean Cultural Center Director Byung Goo Choi at the opening reception, citing “a convergence of past and present, tradition and innovation, intensity and delicateness, or even East and West…As we continue to introduce the diversity of Korean culture to the world, artists such as Chang-Woo Seok have an important role to play.”