Not satisfied with his nakjuk skills even after the five-year training, Kim began to search for a new
teacher. One day, he heard that an elderly man named Guk Yang-mun had the best nakjuk skills in the
country. Visiting his workshop, Kim saw that this 74-year-old artist, with a body bent like a shrimp due
to his lifelong devotion to his art, was still producing great works. Under Guk’s tutelage Kim finally
mastered the nakjuk skills that had been left incomplete due to the unexpected death of his earlier
teacher. Kim recommended that his new tutor be granted the title of Nakjukjang (which previously
belonged to Kim’s first tutor, Yi, before his death) and in 1987, Guk Yang-mun was bestowed with the
honorable title by the government that also designated the pyrography art as ‘Important Intangible Cultural
Property No. 31.’ Kim’s enthusiasm towards pyrography was revived and his achievements began to be
recognized across the country through the various prizes he won almost every year from the many arts and
crafts fairs and competitions he entered. The artistic merit of Korean pyrography art now began to earn an
international reputation through exhibitions of his work in the U.S., Thailand and Germany, fascinating many
art lovers in those respective countries. His long-time devotion to the preservation and development of the
traditional nakjuk art was decorated when he was granted the third Nakjukjang title in 2000 following his
two predecessors.

A nakjuk craftsman doesn’t need to use many tools; an indu and a charcoal brazier are all he requires. An indu is a
tool shaped like a hoe with an iron head that looks like a parrot’s beak whose end is sharply pointed. An artist
normally uses two indus while making a piece, using them in turn. Maintaining the right temperature for the tip is the
key because if the temperature is too high it can burn the bamboo surface leaving black marks behind, while if the
heat is too low the finished drawing can be too dim. The temperature of an indu is measured by holding the heated
end close to the cheek and feeling the heat radiating from it. A quick sense and much experience are crucial to
determining the right temperature. At the same time, the artist should be equipped with the ability to make quick
movements as well as strong skills because he needs to complete a character or an image before the heated tool cools
down. Because a drawn image should display aesthetic beauty and meaning, a nakjuk artist must be mentally
focused, creative, and highly proficient.

Nakjukjang Kim Gi-chan displays incredibly exquisite expertise in depicting a landscape or a plant, and engraving
words onto a tiny space. To produce a work, he needs to repeat an extremely difficult process many times to
elaborately engrave thread-like fine designs onto the bamboo’s surface while maintaining an upright cross-legged
position for many hours, as well as make extraordinary efforts to materialize his artistic creativity. His works are
largely based on traditional designs and subjects, but each of the pieces exhibits a unique beauty expressed in
Kim’s own style and ingenuity.

Making an eollaebit, a traditional wooden comb shaped like a
half-moon with loosely spaced teeth, is another area of
traditional handicraft with which Kim is in love. An eollaebit
is a beauty care item used for arranging the hair before
styling. As excavations from Gaya (an ancient Korean
kingdom that existed from the 1st century B.C. to 562)
tombs show, the wooden comb is one of the oldest houseware
objects in Korea. It has also been an essential wedding gift
mothers give to their daughters before marriage. A recently
known fact is that the use of wooden comb, instead of modern
plastic combs, helps prevent static electricity and keeps the
hair and scalp healthy. An eollaebit that is held in the hand
is also used for the massage of the palms (by repeatedly
clenching it), neck and shoulders (by pressing it down on
them), an activity known to be beneficial for both physical
and mental health.

It was through extensive research on remaining relics collected in
museums that Kim succeeded in reproducing the traditional eollabit
used by Korean ancestors 1000 years ago. Following his success,
he started to give it creative forms and decorate it with various exquisite
nakjuk designs based on the natural world, thus amalgamating
function with beauty. The eollaebit made by Kim Gi-chan features a
beautiful design and elegant form, and his finishing touch with
camellia oil increases the natural wood texture for years to come.

Kim Gi-chan’s artist name is Eulsan, which means ‘Second Tallest
Mountain.’ He said that he chose the name, instead of Gapsan
(‘The Tallest Mountain’), because he wants his position to be not at the
very top but somewhere just below it. It is also another way of expressing
his wish to live his life striving to move forward and upward, and always
searching for, and challenging, what is new. “Hold a pen only with your right
hand,” he said, concerning his quest for the innovative in his art, “and you get always the same writing style. But if you
hold it with your left hand, you can find a new style that you never expected.” Even today, his ambitious efforts to
advance forward without staying just in one place, to forge new ideas for his art as his artist name signifies, takes
him on creative journeys in many different directions, opening his eyes to wonderful new experiences.

* Photo of Kim Gi-chan by Seo Heun-kang

View the master's works