Master of portrait painting, Park Young-gil, paints a portrait just by listening to voice

Designated as Standard Portrait of the Deceased Artist No. 67 by Jang Young-sil

By Kim Hak-young


Portrait paintings have played a very important role in art history over the ages, and the writer met Jisan Park Young-gil at his Insa-dong studio. There is a painter in the Korean art world who is considered a master of portrait painting. This is Park Young-gil, chairman of the Korean Portrait Painters Association.


The moment you enter Park's studio in Insa-dong, Seoul, you are greeted by works that speak volumes about his mastery of portraiture.


From the majestic and vivid portraits of the late President Park Chung-hee to former U.S. President Reagan to the world-famous baseball star Park Chan-ho, the first to 37th Chiefs of Staff of the ROK Air Force, the faces that flavored an era have been immortalized in the world.

The faces on the canvas are so realistic and full of life that they seem to speak to you. Jisan Park Young-gil is a well-known Korean portrait painter. He is a Western painter who specializes in lively portraits and natural light. In 2001, Park was officially designated as a Korean Standard Portrait of the Deceased Artist (No. 67) after a rigorous examination by Jang Young-sil.



“A portrait painting must have a lively eye first, and the subject's facial features must feel alive,” Park said. “In particular, in the case of portrait of the deceased paintings, I study and reflect the facial features of the descendants of the family based on documentary evidence.”

Few painters have as much documentation as Jisan's Park Young-gil. Park has been featured on TV more than six times as the man who painted portraits by hearing voices, and the Jisan Park Young-gil Golf Tournament, named after him, is being held for the 15th year. 



Park is also known for his portraits of Korean and international celebrities, including former President Park Chung-hee, former US President Bush, and former national soccer team manager Hiddink. He was the first Korean to exhibit at the Diaoyutai, the Beijing State Guest House, and is the designated artist of the Standardized Portrait of the Deceased Artist No. 67 for his portrait of Jang Young-sil.


Jisan Park Young-gil, chairman of the Korean Figure Painting Association, is considered a master of figure painting in the Korean art world. Park was influenced by his grandfather, who was a master of poetry painting, and was called a prodigy for learning oriental painting from an early age. As he grew up, he began to study Western painting in earnest.


A graduate of Hongik University, he is currently the vice president of the Korea Art Association and has taught at Sookmyung Women's University, Jangshin University, Kyung Hee University, and Yeowon University of Art. Park says, “A painting should contain life and love. I want to paint stories that everyone can breathe and relate to.” 


What has made Park famous is his ability to paint portraits in a special way. He can paint a portrait just by listening to the voice of the person he's painting, a skill he has demonstrated on TV programs such as KBS, SBS, and MBC.  



When selected as a nominee for the 100,000-won banknote, the soulful works of Jisan's Park Young-gil, who has been designated as the standard Korean portrait of the deceased artist, are featured in national history textbooks and standard exhibitions, serving as the basis for enhancing the effectiveness of history education. 


He was a jury member of the 3rd Korea Art Exhibition, a steering committee member of the Korea Art Exhibition, and an invited artist at the Korea Art Exhibition. He has served as a director and chairman of art associations for five consecutive terms. He has been a member of the steering committee of the Korean Patriotic Art Exhibition (organized by the Army Headquarters) for five years.



In the early 1980s, he made many contributions to the national interest by drawing montages, and in 1990, when a Chinese artist was injured in Korea by multiple stab wounds, Park helped the artist being hospitalized, treated, and sent to China. Since then, he has helped dozens of Chinese overseas Koreans.

Park Young-gil, the vice chairman of the Korea Art Association, never loses his gentle smile when speaking to the reporter. He hopes that this will be a great opportunity for the Korean art world to “blossom,” saying that it will set a new milestone that will bring about a multifaceted transformation in the Korean art world, such as international exchanges with European artists and the discovery and support of talented Korean artists, and he spares no words of encouragement for junior artists. We have prepared a special issue that tells the story of Park's artistic rise to the top.



Artist Park Young-gil's work has been admired around the world


Currently, I am a tenured professor at Jilin University of the Arts in China. In 2011, he held a solo invitational exhibition at the State Guest House, Diàoyútái.  The State Guesthouse, widely known as the venue of the Six-Party Talks, is a strictly controlled place where foreign heads of state often meet. In particular, the State Guesthouse is also home to some of China's best deceased artists.


In 2012, he was given 10 booths for free at COEX in Beijing, and his paintings “Nude Painting in the Pupil of the Eye” (Window of the Heart No. 50) and “Work of Stone” (Dorandoran No. 20) were auctioned off and sold for very high prices. This was a great honor, as the socialist country is very strict and not just anyone can exhibit at COEX.


When I had my first solo exhibition at Hanaro Gallery in Insa-dong in 2012, I vividly remember the director Jung Sung-tae telling many artists and audience members in his congratulatory remarks that Park Young-gil is a Western painter, but he is also a painter who is very good at oriental paintings, portraits, and sagunja (four gracious plants), and that he is a very amazing painter who only listened to the voice and painted the figure on 'Scoop Amazing World' such as KBS, MBC, and SBS.

When I look at Park's works based on landscapes, it's not just about the outward appearance. They are also symbolized as “droplets of life” that come to “fruition” after a period of hard work.


Jisan's works encompass the four seasons of Korea. His works not only celebrate nature, but also give life to each and every object. In particular, his depiction of his hometown with its rich local colors shows his love for his hometown of Sunchang, Jeollabuk-do. 


His works are now officially recognized by the Korea Fine Arts Association and are priced at 1 million won per piece. Looking at his works, you feel like you're back home. If you can see and live with your hometown every day, which money can't buy, it's worth paying a lot more money.


Park was recently appointed as an ambassador for the Korean Medical Aid Foundation. He is happy to be able to give back to the needy, even if it's not for money. He is very excited about the opportunity because he always stays low and humble in his work.


Park had many exhibitions in Japan in the 1990s, and was treated as a national treasure by the local media. In 2011, he was personally invited to exhibit at the State Guest House, Diàoyútái in China, and the following year, he was the only Korean artist to be invited to COEX in Beijing, where he exhibited Nude Painting in the Pupils of Eyes, attracting attention. Whenever he exhibits abroad, he plays the role of a civilian diplomat.
During one of his many overseas exhibitions, he saw Japan's love for cherry blossoms and felt sad that the mugunghwa, the flower of the Korean race, was neglected in Korea, so he began to paint mugunghwa. He painted the 100th mugunghwa for the 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from the Japanese colonial rule, and in 2017, he was invited to paint the 200th mugunghwa.


Park was influenced by his grandfather, who was fluent in poetry painting, and was called a prodigy as he learned oriental painting from a young age. 


He will continue to exhibit three-dimensional works created with new techniques of water drop and blending on top of each other. 

Biography of Western Painter Park Young-gil  

Chairman of World Pro Art Association
Jury member of the 3rd Korea Art Exhibition
Steering Committee Member and Invited Artist of Korea Art Exhibition
Member of the Steering Committee for the 1st through 7th Korea Patriot Art Exhibition
Designated Artist of Korea Standard Portrait of the Deceased No. 67
Vice President of Korea Art Association 

26 solo exhibitions, 410 invitational exhibitions at home and abroad