|As the artisan’s hand firmly grips the indu, which dances over the surface of the bamboo, deer begin
to run and vines bear gorgeous grapes in subtly rising fogs. A beautiful landscape is created on a
piece of bamboo, much like an ink painting drawn by a master painter.
Nakjuk, which literally means, “burning on bamboo,” is a traditional Korean pyrography art in which an artist
produces a calligraphic work or a drawing on the surface of a piece of bamboo with a red-hot burning
instrument, called an indu. The pyrography art is used to decorate a plethora of household objects, including
combs, spools, fans, brushes, brush holders, folding screens and furniture. Records show that the
art was developed by a late Joseon Dynasty artisan named Park Chang-gyu, who came across, and
learned, advanced nakjuk techniques in Beijing, China, when he visited the city in 1822. When he
returned to Korea, he began to develop his own techniques and eventually produced outstanding
nakjuk works. The aesthetic merit of his pieces was so great that Chinese envoys visiting the Joseon
Kingdom were fascinated by it, and spread word of his name all across China where they gave him
the nickname, Hwahwa Doin - “Master of Flame Art.” Park’s art and his incredible talent were passed
down to the younger generations of his family, who continued to produce great nakjuk artists and
works. One of the pieces, a long smoking pipe decorated with a coiled dragon design, was offered to
the king as a tribute. The king praised the pipe, saying that the dragon seemed to contract its scales
whenever he breathed in smoke and expand them when he blew it out. This episode clearly
exemplifies the high level the nakjuk artists of the Park Chang-gyu family attained in terms of techniques and
artistic merit of pyrography.
A 10-panel Folding Screen with Nakjuk (Bamboo Pyrography) Drawings of Birds and Plants
Joseon Dynasty, 19th century
A work by Park Ju-dam, a descendant of the nakjuk master Park Chang-gyu, this 10-panel folding screen contains
nakjuk drawings of maehwa, orchids, banana trees, willows, grapes, bamboo and pine trees with birds. All drawings
are made in the style of traditional folk art and a poem of a related theme is written in a calligraphic style at the top of
each panel. Realistic touches on details and shading of these drawings create a unique atmosphere different from
ordinary ink painting.
Since its glory days during the Joseon period, nakjuk art has created many great
artists, helping to establish itself as an important part of the traditional Korean
handicraft used to decorate a variety of objects for daily use. Nakjukjang
(‘Master Artist of Nakjuk Art’) Kim Gi-chan liked creating items such as tops,
sleds and kites, even when he was very young, and displayed remarkable
skills. Yet it was in his early twenties when he was an enthusiastic art
student that he was introduced to the art of nakjuk. At that time he was
staying in Songgwangsa Temple, one of the three most important Buddhist
temples in Korea, where he immersed himself in its scenic natural
surroundings. Here he met a woman who would become his lifelong
companion and married her. His quest for art continued and he eventually
studied in an art studio in the city of Gwangju, an experience that led him on
the path of finding his future career.
In 1982, Park Yong-gi, a master craftsman of decorative hand-knife making who
happened to be a friend of the owner of the art studio where he studied art, introduced
him to Yi Dong-ryeon, the first Master nakjuk artist. Actually, it was Park Yong-gi himself who originally wanted to learn
nakjuk skills from Yi to use them to decorate the grips and sheathes of his bamboo hand-knives. But finding that
Kim, a capable art student, would perform better than himself, he encouraged Kim to learn the art in the hopes that
the youngster would later create magnificent decorations for his knives.
Kim started to learn nakjuk, although he had to make the long trip between Damyang where Yi’s workshop was
located and Songgwangsa where he lived. To be a competent nakjuk artist, one needs to draw figures or write letters
on a bamboo surface with a hot indu before it cools down, ideally sitting cross-legged with the upper body upright.
Because he wasn’t used to such a posture, he had to stand up quite often during his training to relieve the physical
pain caused by the uncomfortable position, resulting in harsh scoldings from his tutor. The experience of his nakjuk
education was bitter and severe, yet he was able to make progress day after day in the newly adopted art. His
original plan was to learn the art for five years under the master artist, but sadly his plans changed when the senior
artist died suddenly three years after Kim began his apprenticeship. The sadness of losing the master and his
mentor became an obstacle on the road to learning the art. Now Kim had no choice but to teach himself for the
remaining two years.
View the master's works