Completed this month in time for the lunar new year, the mural on the southern wall of the Korean Community Center at 981 S. Western Ave. celebrates tradition and hope for better times ahead.
The mural, 73 feet long and 64 feet high, features eight colorfully clad figures in a traditional Korean farmers’ dance of the kind performed to prepare for the arduous planting season.
It’s a scene that reminds Dong-In Park, the artist, of the rough row hoed by the city’s Korean-American community.
“Koreans have worked very hard in this city, but in one day last year it was all gone,” Park said, referring to the spring riots. But like farmers who start from scratch each season, Park believes the Korean-American community will rebound. “We will try again,” he said.
Park, 46, knows about surviving rough times.
As a soldier in the South Korean Army in 1968 he fought in the Vietnam War. “A horrible time,” he said.
Military service forced Park to put his budding artistic career on hold. In 1974 he came to Los Angeles, but after a series of low-wage jobs he enlisted in the U.S. Army. “My English was terrible but when they heard about my Vietnam experience they said I didn’t need to speak.”
With the educational benefits earned from two years in the Army, Park enrolled in French classes before heading off to Paris, where he studied painting and won a subsidy from the French government.
Since his return to Los Angeles in 1982, Park has shown his work, which he describes as Abstract Expressionist, in several exhibitions. But it is his public work--his murals--that’s most satisfying.
“When I paint on canvas, it’s shown in a gallery or bought by someone who keeps it inside their house. But everyone can see a mural, even if they are just driving down the street.”
Park has completed 10 murals in Los Angeles and Seoul. He plans to return to Seoul in March to touch up one of his murals.
One of his five murals that can still be seen in Los Angeles, “Koreans,” stretches for 160 feet along a wall on 7th Street. The 11 segments of the mural depict the experiences of immigrants adjusting to life in the United States. “It shows people who miss Korea and sometimes get depressed, but they work hard and find a way to achieve success,” Park said.
The 7th Street mural, done in 1989, was part of the city’s Neighborhood Pride project and one of the dozen or so murals commissioned each year by the Social and Public Arts Resource Center in Venice.
“We see murals as a way to manifest our history or memory,” said Gustavo Leclerc, the resource center’s public art program director. “They’re a physical expression of what we are all about.”
Another Koreatown mural painted by Park and Sonia Hahn, “Madame Shin Sa Im Dang,” honors a respected figure in Korean history known as a model mother and teacher. “I don’t want the 1.5- and second-generation Korean kids to forget their language and history,” Park said.
Studying murals in Europe and Mexico has deepened his own appreciation of history, Park said: “I’ve seen mosaic tile murals that are 400 years old. Today, with acrylic paint, we’re lucky if they last 10 years.”