Aside from Insadong, it is so common to see signs and brand names in English on the streets in Korea. Most Koreans consider the English alphabet as one of the most sophisticated letters in the world. However, Korean handwriting seems to be more trendy in Korean movies, CI(corporate identity), and books, nowadays. This is called calligraphy for commercial purposes .
Kang Byung-in, one of the great calligraphy masters in Korea longs to see the moment when the whole world recognizes and appreciates the beauty of Korean calligraphy. Until that dream blossoms everywhere, he is determined to devote his life to calligraphy.
Q. When you were young, what made you choose the brush for calligraphy?
A. As I was starting my fifth year in elementary school, my homeroom teacher recommended me to join the calligraphy class. One of the reasons I liked calligraphy was that I enjoyed the moment of rubbing the ink stick on an ink stone. You see, I was somewhat introverted and had a speculative personality compared to my peers. Those factors contributed to my love for calligraphy. Most of all, the praises and encouragements from my teacher boosted me.
Q. What have you been doing to make a living so far?
A. When I was in middle school, I gave myself a nickname, Youngmuk. That was my aspiration to my dream that I would dedicate myself to be with muk(Korean ink) forever. However, the reality is not that simple. I started college when I was around 30, about 10 years behind my colleagues due to my tight financial situation. When I finally went to college, I majored in visual art. In order to do what I really wanted to do, I had to make a living at a design company and later, as an editing designer at a publishing company through a senior’s recommendation for about 20 years. Of course, the experiences at those companies have helped me a lot in coming up with new designs in my calligraphy. I did not start my career as a calligrapher until my early 40s.
Q. It seems that you are quite passionate about the Hanguel, a Korean alphabet. Is calligraphy one of the ways you express your love for the Hanguel?
A. Yes, indeed. As I came into my career as a calligrapher, I had set two goals. One was to integrate various designs with calligraphy, and the other was to popularize the beauty of the Hanguel. Calligraphy in Chinese characters has been long recognized because of its rich historical background and value, but it is not so with Hanguel calligraphy. If it was recognized, it was only used to deliver simple messages among women and children who were not taught Chinese because of strict Confucius cultures during the Chosun dynasty.
The Hanguel was invented by Sejong Daewang who was fluent in calligraphy and researched other characters of other languages including Chinese prior to 1446. In other words, Sejong Daewang took both calligraphy itself and the beauty of letters into consideration when he came up with the Hanguel. All the more, there was a love and philosophy to empower his people who were illiterate in Korean.
Q. Is it possible for the Korean alphabet to have more various fonts than other languages like English or Chinese?
A. I think so. Examining the morpheme of the Hanguel, you will find that it consists of only circles, triangles, and squares. These morphemes are based on art. Therefore, the possibilities of expressing different forms of Hanguel.
Q. Calligraphy can be found everywhere in daily life. How do you think calligraphy can become more popular?
A. Despite the fact that the Hanguel was invented in 1446, there were less than five kinds of font types until 1980 when Macintosh computers were released. It was only then that users could choose font types widening the usage and choices to the general public.
Since the latter half of 1980, there was only a small window of time for the designers to develop good handwriting fonts. For this reason, I think the Hanguel did not receive the glory deserved in comparison to other languages, like English or Japanese, which have been long studied and researched etymologically. In addition, this was a “re-discovery” by the people to consider the Hanguel as one of the most beautiful typefaces in the world.
During the past decades, English alphabet was considered more polished while the Korean alphabet was thought to be less fashionable. This is due to the lack of exact understanding and studies of Hunminjeongeum, the Teaching the People the Proper Sounds or commonly known as the Hanguel.
Q. How did you use your inspirations from your daily life to make a work of art?
A. Human being is supposed to get harmony with nature. From now on, we must focus not on interpersonal communications, but on how to coexist better with nature. People must preserve and care for nature. All of our bodily motions and sounds in our coexistence with nature are directly related to our Korean language. As we live our daily lives and understand our own motions influenced by nature, this will naturally permeate the calligrapher to write in a certain way.
Q. What is your grand plan for the future as a calligrapher?
A. Hanguel has mainly consisted of standardized typefaces, like Gungseo-handwriting and Panbon-handwriting thus far. The typeface in Hunminjeongeum is just the original form. Therefore I believe that applying it into numerous forms is the mission, which Sejong Daewang has handed over to our generation. Now, I would like to be the person, who promotes Hanguel and its beauty to as much as possible in the world.