Korean Folk Art and Laughing Tigers

Living in Seoul, South Korea, during the early 70s, Jean was introduced to Korean folk art. This style of naïve artwork was very graphic in design.

Compositions could be simple or intricately decorated with bright colours and patterns, often portraying humour and satire. Korean folk art was based on Shamanism, a religion that believes that all things and beings hold spirits.

Painted images and animals were, therefore, considered auspicious and each symbolized something important from longevity (cranes) to good fortune (magpies), to chasing away evil spirits such as the tiger.

Tiger and Mountain Spirit Korean Folk Art
Tiger and Mountain Spirit Korean Folk Art

Folk-art tigers, however, were rarely depicted as ferocious, instead, painted as friendly and docile animals, sometimes even represented in a comical manner and often laughing.

Korean folk artists also had a deep and joyful respect for nature and painted the tiger surrounded by magical landscapes, especially because of their belief that spirits reside in everything from trees to mountains and water.

(Korean folk-art tiger and waterfall panels)

Tiger and Waterfall Korean Folk Art
Tiger and Waterfall Korean Folk Art
Tiger, Blue Mountains, Red Sun by Jean Tori 2012
Tiger, Blue Mountains, Red Sun by Jean Tori 2012

 

 

Jean was fascinated by the style of Korean folk art and its use of vivid colours, especially green, blue and red.

She enjoyed the bold forms and humorous and joyful compositions that were full of vitality, often surrounded by suns and moons.

(Here is Jean’s painting titled, “Tiger, Blue Mountains and Red Sun”, from 2012)

 

Korean folk art was very influenced by folk legends and symbols of happiness, so, a favourite art theme featured tigers and magpies.

Folk tales tell the story of the magpie teasing and taunting the naïve yet fortunately good-natured tiger. Painted together they represented an image of good luck as the tiger would repel evil spirits and the magpie foretold good news.

Tiger and Magpie Korean Folk Art
Tiger and Magpie Korean Folk Art

Jean has always been influenced by the wit and fun of the Korean folk-art animals, embracing the concept that laughing tigers can invoke humour with their unique and quirky personalities.

This idea is often present in Jean’s illustrations, where she paints happy tigers surrounded by magical landscapes. (Here is Theodore the Tiger from our children's book “Leo’s Birthday Adventure”.)

Theodore the Tiger in the Jungle by Jean Tori for Leo's Birthday Adventure 2019
Theodore the Tiger in the Jungle by Jean Tori for Leo's Birthday Adventure 2019

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