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John Pai 존 배 : Studio

Apr 23, 2021

Galley Hyundai visited the studio and home of John Pai, who lives and works in Fairfield, Connecticut. In John and Eunsook Pai’s beautiful house, where the antique atmosphere of the traditional farmhouse meets a contemporary sensibility, Pai’s sculptures glow with inherent vitality in their designated spaces. Although the artist creates his sculptures through precise and painstaking manual welding, they seem to gently obscure his intensive physical labor behind extraordinary spaces formed by matrices of lines. Beginning with nothing but a line, Pai’s sculpture organically evolves into serial networks inviting us to an infinite space where the beginning and end are unknown. 


John Pai was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1937 and moved to the United States in 1949, when he was twelve years old. He held his first one-person show at age fifteen at the Oglebay Institute in Wheeling, West Virginia in 1952, and he proceeded to study industrial design as an undergraduate and then sculpture in the graduate program at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. In the 1960s, when he was in his mid-twenties, he became the youngest professor to be appointed to the faculty at Pratt and became engaged in leading the school’s fine arts and sculpture programs, holding teaching and administrative roles for nearly four decades.


"At time, I look around my Connecticut home and wonder how reminiscent it is of my childhood home in Ilsan, a small village outside of Seoul. My mother called it the Garden of Eden. I spent many endless days wandering along the hillside, and wading barefoot in the clear running streames. As night, I would lie on my grandmother's lap listening to her enchanting stories while staring up at the star-filled skies. The stars seemed so lively and so close... I felt I could walk and leap among them. These images danced before my eyes, and gave life to my dreams for many years. Now, oddly enough, I don't find myself roaming the fields or wading in the river in our back yard much. Instead, I spend days and nights in my studio looking inward, often not knowing time, day, month or season... which now brings me to another childhood memory." - John Pai 


"Pai’s process is slow and incremental, literally one line at a time. Many of his pieces consist of open grids made of thin steel rods welded together. The grids seem capable of attaining any contortion, torque, or change in size. A number of open, self-contained, freestanding works are composed of a form inside a form inside a form, all made from the same bending, folding, curving plane. The only equivalents I can think of are three-dimensional computer graphics, perhaps theoretical models of a black hole or an imploding galaxy." - John Yau


"The works of John Pai also enjoy the movement and the rhythm of space permitted by the material, which is steel. Although it has the borne heaviness, the work blurs the sense of weight and lets the viewers perceive it as light and free. There co-exists one space made by the material and another space made by nothingness. One space opens the other. Being is contrasted but harmonized with non-being. Those interactions create oscillating tranquility. We can also see how the works allow diverse shapes to emerge from different viewpoints with light and air." - Nam-In Kim


Over a span of approximately forty years, he has sought to find a balance in his life between the roles of educator, administrator, and artist while showing his work in New York, Paris, and Seoul. Since 2000, he has committed his time exclusively to his art practice in Fairfield. Pai, who has spent over seventy years in the United States, describes in thoughtful terms his journey of reflecting on his life and works to date. Pai is currently preparing his upcoming (2021) retrospective at the Korean Cultural Center New York for the Center’s inaugural exhibition at its newly constructed building. 


갤러리현대는 미국 코네티컷 페어필드에 위치한 조각가 존 배의 집과 스튜디오를 찾았다. 컨츄리하우스의 분위기와 현대적 감각을 접목시킨 존 배와 부인 은숙 배의 아름다운 집에서 그의 조각 작품들은 각기 제 자리를 찾아 작품 본연의 빛을 발산한다. 작가의 고된 용접 작업을 통해 생성된 작품들은 가는 선과 선을 반복해서 이은 경이로운 공간감을 드러내지만, 고된 육체노동의 흔적은 조형미 뒤에 슬며시 숨겨두는 듯하다. 하나의 선에서 시작하여 연쇄적인 그물망으로 확장해 나가는 존 배의 조각은 시작과 끝을 알 수 없는 무한한 공간으로 우리를 초대한다. ⠀

존 배는 1937년 서울에서 태어나 1949년 12살 때 미국으로 이주하였다. 그는 1952년 웨스트버지니아주 휠링에 있는 오글베이 연구소에서 첫 개인전을 열었고, 후에 뉴욕 브루클린에 있는 프랫인스티튜트에서 산업디자인을 전공한 후, 대학원 과정으로 조각을 수학하였다. 존 배는20대 중반이던 1960년대에 프랫인스티튜트의 최연소 교수로 임명이 되었고, 거의 40년 동안 교직과 행정 역할을 맡으며 학교의 미술과 조각 프로그램을 이끌었다.

뉴욕, 서울, 파리 등에서 작업을 선보이며 40여 년 동안 교육자, 행정가, 작가로의 삶에서 균형을 찾고자 애써 온 작가는 2000년 퇴직 후 페어필드에서 작업에만 몰두해왔다. 미국에서 70년 넘게 살아온 그는 요즘 자신의 삶과 작업을 돌아보는 자연스러운 여정에 있는 듯하다. 작가는 올해 12월 뉴욕한국문화원 신축 건물의 첫 전시로 열릴 회고전을 준비하고 있다.  ⠀

All image courtesy of the artist