Here’s a rare glimpse of official art from North Korea, with explanations by B.R. Myers, a contributor to Foreign Policy magazine.
“Kim Jong Il comforts a distraught nation after his father's death on July 8, 1994. In the background is the 66-foot bronze statue of the Great Leader that was erected on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang in 1972. Dark skies in depictions of this period symbolize the growing threat from without.”
“The Dear Leader stands guard as the waves of a hostile world crash ineffectually against the rocks.”
Say what you want about the grandiose personality cult and the bizarre geopolitical posturing. I’m intrigued by the paintings themselves. That’s some darn good water painting in the second piece, especially in the recoil of the foamy wave on the left. The strong silhouette, and Kim’s resolute defiance remind me of N.C. Wyeth’s Billy Bones. Just swap the spyglass for tinted specs.
Look at the far red flag in the second painting. It sits back in space because of the muted color and the softened top edge. All the figures are well studied, though the value organization is a little busy. The grouping of figures reminds me of 19th century Russian history painters like Vasily Surikov (1848-1916). Official art in east Asia took much of its early inspiration from the Russian painters.
Back in the late 70s, I used to go to Chinatown in L.A. to collect Mao posters, which were impressive paintings on a lot of levels. They’re a piece of history now. I’ve had the privilege of meeting many of the artists who painted them, and their stories are fascinating.
See more examples and read political commentary: B.R. Myers on Foreign Policy,