Stubborn as marble, crystalline, unyielding, brilliant, cold yet warm as marble. Park Eun Sun was born in 1965 in the southern part of South Korea, in the port city of Mokpo. Here, in ancient times, those nobles and politicians who were disliked by the power were exiled. Here, the internees spent their days of forced inactivity composing verses and painting. The Korean civil war has been over for twelve years. The population is trying to lift itself out of poverty. Under the direction of a strong government, daily life is punctuated by slogans that exalt getting up: 'we can live well', 'we can make it'. From the loudspeakers, uplifting music, on the walls, words of courage and equally mottos against the communist regime in the north that has split off from the peninsula, bringing with it mourning and unhealed wounds. Park Eun Sun's parents are in business, her grandparents are farmers. His family is not exactly destitute, but it is the whole nation that is on the verge of poverty. At school, teachers enquire: does your family live on rent? Do you have household appliances? And you, what do you want to be when you grow up? And Park Eun Sun replies, unfailingly: I want to be a painter. But the child is gifted and stands out, so much so that after decorating his own classroom, they send him to the other classes to decorate them with drawings and paintings. Social and political messages need pictures and beautiful calligraphy: our pupil can sometimes afford not to shine in some subjects, because the teachers hold him in the palm of their hand anyway, because of this special talent of his.
However, art is a luxury that the Parks cannot afford. In middle school, Eun Sun still manages to practise, despite his parents' advice to the contrary (because painting... “is not a job, and to cultivate it as a hobby takes time and money”). As chance would have it, the pupil has an art teacher who is a real painter.... He teaches for a living (and perhaps does not do so particularly willingly): stubborn and anything but amiable, he nevertheless notices the child's talent and spurs him on. He even goes so far as to subsidise him, with a sort of scholarship, under the table, without the student's family knowing about it. When he starts high school, however, the parents' ban becomes peremptory. During the entire first year of high school, Park Eun Sun does not paint a single picture. The loss of contact with creative matter robs him of energy, he falls into depression and his school performance suffers markedly. The crisis even threatens to jeopardise his chance of going to university later on. Mother and father capitulate, accepting the idea of their son aspiring to an art school and enrolling him in a private academy, they face many sacrifices so that he can make up for lost time. Living in a small southern town in the 1970s and early 1980s, means running the risk of not having the tools, of not being able to acquire adequate preparation for university. In the long winter holidays of the Korean school year, the boy travels to Seoul to hone his technique, attending one of the capital's academies. On the Asian peninsula, even today, the biggest hurdle for a student is admission to university. Eun Sun's older brother has already tried several times to pass the university entrance examination, at considerable financial expense to the family. It is therefore crucial that Eun Sun gets in at the first, because for him, there will probably be no second chances. So he chooses to attempt the exam to approach the teaching branch of the art faculty, also because - he thinks - “at worst, I can always make a living teaching”.
Seeking one's fortune abroad: many, as soon as they possess a modest capital, opt to leave the country. This is what Park Eun Sun's paternal uncle did, handing over a small business in Seoul to his brothers. Meanwhile, for Eun Sun's parents, work in Mokpo becomes increasingly difficult and less profitable. They then decided to move to the capital. Here the business opened by their relative will not work and the Park family will open a restaurant, but business will still struggle to take off. Eun Sun is at the beginning of his university career but soon realises that it cannot work: he needs to contribute to the family's economy, not just be a cost. Having started school a year earlier than usual, he plans to stop and do his military service (which in Korea at the time lasts three years),without losing too much ground, anagraphically, to his future colleagues. His parents are against it, but the boy has now made up his mind. He discontinues his studies and helps his family: he works wherever the opportunity presents itself, as a teacher in private academies, in Seoul but also in Mokpo, also serving as a labourer. In the end, the military called him back after two years. And for a further three years, very hard, he only manages to paint in the few spaces of freedom he is allowed. They need help in the restaurant. So he assists them, both in their daily practice and by reinventing the interior of the restaurant. But in his heart, a voice repeats: 'you have to do something with your life'
Unsettling his mother and father, who are used to having their son's support, Eun Sun decides to return to university. He tries to help out, in the cafeteria, in his spare time, but the priority from now on will be his studies. After more than five years, he enrols again, not without unexpected difficulties: in Korea, at the time, student protests against the government are very heated (and violent is the repression). Not infrequently, out-of-school students resume their studies in order to spread rebellious ideas and lead protests. Park is suspected of being among those, so he is admitted after much insistence and will be punctually spied on along his course of study, as he himself will learn many years later. At this point, the young artist from Mokpo finally discovers sculpture. In the second year, the faculty provides for the possibility of choosing a specific branch and Eun Sun, knowing nothing about this field of art, yet feeling strongly attracted to it, tackles it. Two professors in particular, Inkyum Kim and Youngwon Kim, mark this delicate stage of learning. The former deals with abstract, the latter with figurative. They have different approaches and there is bad blood between them. But Eun Sun models himself after them, tries to resemble them as a child does with his parents. Towards the end of his studies, he noticed in himself a propensity for the abstract.... Reproducing reality somehow seemed to him an easier and less stimulating path, while sculpting without models seemed the right way to find his own language.
She was a student of his. She is now in her final year at university, while he is in his first. It sounds like a novel, instead it is simply destiny manifesting itself and proposing signs to be encoded. Let us take a step back: Eun Sun stopped university in order not to burden her family financially. On the contrary, he wants to support it and looks for work. From Seoul, he temporarily moves to his native Mokpo to teach painting at a private academy. Here he meets, among the many boys who attend it, the high school girl Kyung Hee, whom he does not notice at first. After a few months, Park does the math and realises that the occupation absorbs him too much and does not pay him enough: he then leaves the academy and opts for less intellectual but more lucrative jobs. The boys at the academy, however, want him to follow them and refuse to continue attending without the young professor. Park allows himself to be persuaded, returns to Mokpo once more and decides to follow his students, both those in their second year (like Kyung Hee) and those who have to take their university exams. Now he looks at his fellow countrywoman with different eyes: there is a mixture of naivety and motherly solidity in her that attracts him. But the situation does not allow, ethically, any rapprochement and the relationship continues to be that of teacher/pupil. At the end of the school year, Park returns to Seoul and tries her hand at many professions. During winter break the following year, his former penultimate year students, now ready to take their university exams, are in Seoul to further their studies. They contact Park, their former professor, and Kyung Hee is among them. But military service separates the two again. On leave, Eun Sun learns that the girl who had been his pupil has enrolled in the very university he had interrupted... He entertains the idea that she would follow him, but does not contact her. He does not even do so when, after his long military service, he spends a few months helping his parents in the family tavern. He finally looks for her when he resumes his studies. She is in her final year, while he, her former professor, is again in his first. Love blossoms and Park, after a brief engagement, asks Kyung Hee if she is willing to marry him despite her family's dire financial situation and a future with no guarantees. Her former pupil agrees, on one condition: her future husband must stop smoking. And on that day Eun Sun puts out her last cigarette.
Park began working with natural stone. Carving it gives him a sense of peace. In Korea, the one most easily found is granite. Metal begs for welding, wood begs for colouring, while granite only begs for material to be stripped down to the desired shape. Approaching graduation, the Mokpo student has to decide whether to continue with a two-year PhD or start working. In the newspapers, meanwhile, news of the first compatriots who have held exhibitions abroad, or who are returning after further training outside Korea... Among the artists, there are rumours of a distant place, in Italy, where Michelangelo had found the marbles for his masterpieces. Eun Sun and Kyung Hee reason about their future. She suggests: why not go to Italy? They come up with the idea of expatriating, of saving as much as they can, of not giving themselves any wedding gifts and saving up to study in Carrara, in the eldorado of marble. A place of which the two boys know very little, just enough, however: marble, everywhere, and practically nothing else, no distractions. A place of sculptors, a tiny place, compared to Seoul, where you don't have to go crazy to find work tools, where marble is cheaper and is of high quality... Eun Sun's thinking, then as now, admits no half measures: 'time is gold'. If the block of marble is what he needs, he doesn't waste time haggling or looking for alternatives, he buys it because that way he doesn't waste time, and it will be time earned, which he will invest in his works. Kyung Hee in Korea, after graduating, opened a small private academy to teach painting to children. He quit his job and the two became a team. The ring that will unite them will be a fake diamond: the money is needed for their bigger project.
In 1993, shortly after getting married, the two young people moved to the other side of the world. Eun Sun is twenty-eight years old. He chose an apprenticeship in a marble workshop and at first decided to ignore his previous professional experience, precisely in order to better absorb what he could learn from Italy. A strategy, this one, that he soon realised was not successful. In fact, after eight months, the creative block is total. He cannot find his own voice, his own expressive path. He stops, he stops sculpting, for three months he spends his days reflecting and walking along Versilia. Then he realises: it is the assumption that is wrong. To throw away what he did in Korea is to deny his own history. In Italy, he probably did not come to learn but to work, to express his art. And he has already glimpsed his own art in his last months at university, when he began to shape matter, to build, breaking... In Italy, at the time, many of his compatriots are trying to thicken their curricula, without worrying too much about the rest, since priority is given to those degrees that will then allow them access to university teaching at home. In the years to come, requests will come to Park from Korea: a first time in 2005, a second more recently. Especially with the first offer, she struggles to make up her mind, but then refuses.... Because teaching is an all-encompassing activity, and he wants to be a full-time artist.
Eun Sun's parents hoped for a better future, for their artist son. Kyung Hee's parents hoped for a better future, for their daughter and son-in-law. Park is well aware that he has not lived up to their expectations and bears the psychological burden of this. The important thing is that his wife is on his side. And Kyung Hee is, totally, on his side, an accomplice in a life project undertaken, even in the difficulties, in the hardships that they have to face for some ten years. Today, Park looks back on those difficult years: if his wife had burdened him with financial problems, the union probably would not have held, or he would have returned to Korea to work. But Kyung Hee believes in her husband, even in his more out-of-the-ordinary choices, such as not taking part in mediocre or collective exhibitions, not accepting compromises, not cultivating interested friendships that are useful to the profession. Her father-in-law, from a distant homeland, wants to send money to support the newlyweds, and Park abruptly refuses help. He wants to make it on his own. And he will succeed, even if he cannot show his success to his wife's father, who will die too soon. Without Kyung Hee, Eun Sun, by his own admission, would not be the artist the world knows and appreciates today. Her constant and fundamental help came in many ways: with constant generosity, with silence at first, with advice later, and with an extroversion that balanced her husband's shy character. 'Why did you marry me, why did you choose me as the father of your children?' he would ask her. And she: 'I saw your stubbornness, I realised that you are a person who, when you start something, goes ahead with it anyway, until you finish it. So I was certain that, sooner or later, you would succeed'.
In 1993, Do Won was born: blue ribbon in the Park household. At the end of the following year, the Korean family left Carrara to settle in Pietrasanta (where they would put down roots). During his years in Carrara, Eun Sun did not get to know his colleagues, especially the Korean ones: a fairly large community that repeatedly tried to involve him in joining forces and proposing group exhibitions. Understandable motivations, but they are the opposite of Park's vision, who is convinced that uniting for the sake of strength is a sterile and morally wrong attitude. As a result, Eun Sun isolates himself and is isolated, especially by his compatriots. Drag, obstinacy, inflexibility: poised between virtue and defect, it is along these lines that the young Korean sculptor undauntedly continues: the only one not to make an anteroom to gallery owners or even knock on the doors of the Korean embassy in Italy. The embassy, in fact, did not even know of his existence for almost twenty years... And only a few years ago, at a change in the leadership of the Korean delegation in Rome, Eun Sun's fame caused the new ambassador to ask to meet him. Three years after the move to Pietrasanta, a very serious financial crisis hit many Asian countries, including Korea. At the exchange rate, the South Korean won (the currency of the Park family's savings) suddenly loses more than half of its value. It is time to make a drastic and painful decision. The husband will stay to work in Italy. While the wife and son, at least for the time being, will return to Korea. The family flies to Seoul, Eun Sun accompanies Kyung Hee and little Do Won, to find them accommodation; in the meantime, he tours the capital's galleries, presenting his portfolio of work. The Park Ryu Sook Gallery in Seoul notices the genius of this unknown sculptor's works and proposes an exhibition. Partly because of these unexpected commitments, which give the family's finances some breathing space, Eun Sun spends a few months in Korea: his wife works part time, teaching, while he looks after their child, taking him to the gardens every morning. The neighbours start gossiping about this young father, whom they imagine has been fired from some depression-ridden company... Park then realises that he must return to Italy as soon as possible, where he has left almost all his tools. However, he lacks travel money and a minimum income to live on. He asks the gallery that has his work on display, but the crisis is widespread and he manages to obtain, despite the magnanimity of his interlocutors, no more than half of what he asked for.
Facing many sacrifices, Park still manages to return to Italy. With the burden of not being able to reunite with his family, there follows a period of Leopardi-like, desperate work: at five o'clock in the morning he is already in the laboratory and leaves at seven at night. Two hours later he is in bed, to recharge his batteries and be ready, before dawn, to start again. On a Sunday, Eun Sun realises that, in a week's time, he would not even have enough money to eat. He goes to the workshop anyway and is met by a completely unexpected visit: a couple of Florentines start asking questions about his work and asking how much it costs. Nervous and discouraged, Park replies brusquely, to the point that the two turn away, annoyed. After about two hours, they return and buy one of his works, thus enabling him to support himself for a few months. They are Eun Sun's first Italian customers...They will become good friends of his in the future. A few weeks later, again on a Sunday, a car with British licence plates appears in front of the workshop. They are art dealers and on behalf of one of their clients they want to buy two works by Park. But the finished works are all locked in a warehouse and Eun Sun does not have the keys. They assure him that they will return the next day to buy and - to his amazement - keep their word. Once again, when the wallet is almost empty, providence sends a partial solution... It is life,' the sculptor comments today, that seems to have put him to the test each time. The same script, one summer day, with a young German man in slippers who arrives by bicycle at the workshop and promises in very unbelievable tones to return the next day to buy a demanding (and expensive) work by Park. So it happens: he shows up again - but this time in a luxury car - and lives up to his intention.
Park never had a business card of his own. A few years ago, a friend of his wanted to make him a present of them, but they are still there, intact. From 1997 to 2000 he lived alone, in Italy, while his son was growing up in Korea. For years, Eun Sun will oppose his son's predisposition towards art, and this will be a reason for quarrels with his wife. 'Poverty must end with me,' he says. For the future of his eldest son, the father dreams of any occupation, as long as it is not that of an artist. Eight years after Do Won, Do Ui will be born, in a much more favourable economic situation. And Park, who has never at any other time changed his philosophy of life, his line, will soften towards his children, no longer precluding the possibility of an artistic outlet. The world slowly takes notice of Park. His temperamental angularity, pride, an extreme correctness of old fashioned style, do not sit well with the world of business (even the world of art). The turning point bears an important surname and a name, Luca. He is the Korean artist's greatest benefactor. A former president of a well-known industrial vehicle company, he gets to know Park's works and falls in love with them. He invites him to dinner - in his villa dotted with works of art - and commissions several sculptures from him. The relationship becomes more confidential, the collector keeps buying his creations and introducing him to new clients. It is he who suggests that his wife and son return to Italy, guaranteeing the sale of his works In the spring of 2001, thus a few months before the birth of Do Ui, another important meeting took place: Park travelled to Japan on the occasion of the opening of an exhibition by his famous Tuscan colleague Giuliano Vangi (whom he greatly admires). It was on this occasion that, in the city of Mishima, he met a gallery owner from Milan, Nicola Loi. The latter already appreciates Park's work: the meeting is the beginning of a long friendship (which endures) based on mutual esteem. Through the Milanese art dealer, Park's sculptures are exhibited in Turin, Milan, Alba, Rome and Florence. The name takes off, word spreads among collectors in Europe and beyond. Friendly relations were established with some, such as a Dutch couple who, through the Korean sculptor, also fell in love with Pietrasanta, to the point that they chose the Versilia location for their daughter's wedding. d it was Pietrasanta that, in 2007, offered Park a large monographic exhibition at the famous 'La Versiliana' park. Although he never knocked on the door of the municipal administration of the 'Little Athens', in the end it was the municipality itself that sought him out and honoured him. A relationship of esteem that gradually grew closer and closer, until, in 2020, Pietrasanta announced that it had decided, by unanimous vote, to award Park Eun Sun honorary citizenship... A recognition that places him alongside two of his colleagues linked to the famous city of art, Fernando Botero and Igor Mitoraj.
The training and the forma mentis are one hundred per cent Korean. And yet, for the Orient, Park's art is purely Western, indeed Italian, indeed Tuscan, while for Europe and the United States, Park's art is purely Eastern. Finding a stylistic collocation is probably a sterile exercise, as there are clues that lead in both directions, from the predilection for two-tone marble to the poetry of the voids that involve outer space. His marble columns not only allow themselves to be looked at but propose a new point of view of the context, they renew their surroundings, because the panorama enters the wounds of the marble and is involved in a perspective of beauty. Space: This is a term Park often uses when he talks about his art. His work demands solitude and seems to be nourished by suffering: not a choice, a need. Breaking, and then turning the wound into a work of art, is the obligatory path of his expressiveness, of his revenge. It is his breath. Breath - the metaphor is his - that allows him to exist, breath that is relief, consolation. Park forces matter and in its cracks he finds air to breathe and light to see.If he had not found this expressive solution - he is convinced - he might have changed his profession, or even died of it, due to the accumulated stress. It was difficult for many colleagues, especially in Korea, to understand a work that went in the opposite direction to the concept of the purity of polished, untouched marble. Italy is his second homeland, his prison by choice. Many of the 27 years he has spent in Tuscany have been fuelled by the flame of a torch: the artist has always tried to focus his stroke, to tune his expressive voice, with a voluntariness and intransigence that are precious currency, but which he always pays for himself. Without taking shortcuts, Park silences his anguish by working, and in a circle that is both virtuous and vicious, suffering generates beauty and, in the broken and recomposed stone, harmony is reconstituted, the fruit of the creative act. Eun Sun at the age of 30 thinks about his 40s, at 40 about his 50s and today about his 60s. Each time he casts his gaze back a decade, in the desire not to 'blush with shame' if he were asked to account for his artistic output when he was ten years younger. In every choice, from the material he has elected as the protagonist of his sculptural voice to the steadfastness of always being an outsider, Park has favoured the slower, more slippery path. And time has proved him right.
Recently, Park's art has undergone a change of pace: this is not a turning point, as he does not deny his own expressive style, but rather increases it... In the meantime, technology is better able to support the Korean sculptor's creative challenges, and this is how the columns of emptied and illuminated marble spheres came into being: true acrobatics of matter that tell us about the classical eternity of marble and its infinite nuances, through an artificial sun that the demiurge places inside them. Bronze has also found a space in Park Eun Sun's artistic production. The ductility of this alloy, its replicability allows him to make creations that not only an elite can possess. Retaining its natural colour, bronze also guarantees its own 'truth', a beauty and harmony that is not so distant from that, however privileged, of marble. The challenge that sums up the visionary poetry expressed in Park's career, he himself sums it up this way: to measure himself against an ancient material - stone - in order to express something new, current, modern. He chose to split, then to glue. Today there are adhesives that last more than a lifetime, but a quarter of a century ago this was not the case. And Park reckoned on the need to repair, re-glue, waiting for progress to adapt (as it then did) to his needs. ter years, when he was drilling, veining, breaking stones, there were many colleagues who did not understand, did not appreciate, even scoffed. Park stubbornly carried on, willing to be counterfeited if anything, but never to counterfeit, never to propose ideas that were not his own, the result of a life-long distillation to discover what is inside marble. Exactly: as obstinate as marble. Like marble, cold but warm, crystalline, inflexible, brilliant.