Kwak Duck-Jun. Born in Kyoto in 1937, the ethnic Korean has spent his entire life in Japan and while recognizing Korea as his motherland has only perceived it through the eyes of others. This sensation was aggravated after Korea’s liberation and Kwak’s loss of Japanese nationality – a consequence of the San Francisco Peace Treaty that effectively rendered Kwak a Korean immigrant in Japan. His notions of ‘identity’ and ‘origin’ have been nebulous and questionable, due particularly to the historical and social boundaries that existed around him.
Kwak’s paintings from the 1960s are composed of unrestricted curvilinear lines and shapes of undefined organic matter reminiscent of the human anatomy and expressions but products of the artist’s subconscious. As suggested through the titles of his paintings, Kwak’s body of work can be seen as embodying a darker side of society representing the personal anger, ridicule and despair stemming from his deeper recesses. The ingenious techniques manifesting his ideas tested the limits of the particular medium as if unable to contain his unbearable emotions toward the reality of the societal afflictions that buffeted the artist. Thirty-eight of these paintings were created and seventeen of them are currently in institutional collections such as National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and the Rachofsky Collection highlights the value and importance of the 1960s canvas series in his oeuvre of work.
Kwak abruptly parted from his painting series during the 1970s as the interests of contemporary art moved towards the conceptual. During this time, Kwak’s practice focused on photography, collage, video and performance. The series, President and Kwak, earned him widespread recognition as a mixed media artist. Self-Portrait 78 is an example of a video work that relays his struggle to overcome his existential crisis and his deepest desire to discover his identity. In the 1980s Kwak created many artworks dealing with the relationship between the media image as seen in his Repetition series of silkscreen utilizing images from mass media to transform such information into art.
In 2003, he made his name in Korea through the exhibition “Artist of the Year,” organized by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, Korea, and received wide acclaim in the art world with his large-scale exhibition, which opened at the National Museum of Art, Osaka in 2014. His works are held by many respected art museums, including the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, Seoul Museum of Art, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, and Fukuoka Prefectural Museum of Art.