One Stroke of Brush and the Way: Moosan Huh Hwe Tae’s Emography
Young-chan Ro, Ph.D.
Professor of Religious Studies
Chair, Religious Studies Department
at George Mason University

Since the invention of writing, human beings have developed various forms and shapes for the written script. Throughout the history of East and West, we discover that the written script is not merely a means of communication, a non-verbal form of exchanging ideas. Moreover, language should not be considered simply as a means of communication. As Martin Heidegger has noted, “language is a house of being.” Language has a power of creating and shaping “being.” Being and words, thus, have an intrinsic unity. The act of writing or manner of drawing is not a simple tool for expressing one’s idea but it is a form of being.

Moosan’s emography (emotion + graphy) is neither a simple form of writing nor a piece of drawing, but it is his unique way of being. His emography transcends the boundary of the modern distinction between “writing” and “drawing,” going back to a primordial state of being itself. In this sense, his emography is a way to go back to the “primitive” or “original” human instinct and way of being. In the process of the evolution of writing systems, human beings have created many different sorts of writing using pictorial ideograms, phonetic symbols or alphabetic letters, some based on sound, others on image. Chinese, for example, was primarily based on ideograms and, thus, the visual element was crucial. Moosan started with the visual dimension of language, calligraphy, when he was young, but he gradually moved into a new territory that he created, “emography.” His emography is a powerful display of the visual impact of language by using characters and letters, particularly the Korean script hangŭl.

Moosan’s emography is breaking not only the boundary of writing and drawing but also the boundary between ‘picture’ and ‘sound.’ His emography is certainly visual but his visual works provoke sound. His emography is a powerful display of emotions and feelings released in such a way that one could “hear” the sound of crying, agony, joy, and peace just by looking at his works. What makes his emography so moving is his unusual talent and passion for grasping the sound of the universe and of his inner-self and expressing them in one stroke of his powerful brush. In conventional wisdom, sound is not to be written or drawn. Moosan, however, displays how his writing and drawing can create the sound of being in a single stroke of the brush. The image he portrays by releasing his emotion is so dynamic and powerful that one can listen to the inner voice coming from his heart and mind. This is the gist of his emo-graphy. The way he works with the brush is such that the brush and his being are no longer two separate entities but they become one movement. He becomes the brush and the brush becomes him.

His emography is exclusively based on the hangŭl script, which was invented by the famous King Sejong in 16th century Chosŏn Korea. Unlike Chinese characters, hangŭl is not based on ideograms, but it is a phonetic system based on sound. Nonetheless, the hangŭl system contains a pictorial dimension reflecting the shapes and forms of human physical organs including the mouth, throat, tongue, and lips as they operate to make sound. The hangŭl system, thus, has both visual and auditory elements. The visual dimension of hangŭl, however, is not related to the description of the object it signifies. Rather it describes the shape of human physical organs and their operation as they create sound. This implies that hangŭl as a language is a unique human activity by using human body to signify what we have in mind.

Beyond the human dimension, hangŭl has a cosmic dimension. The description of human physical organs in the hangŭl system also symbolically represents a cosmic correspondence. In this way the hangŭl system relates humans and cosmic beings.

Moosan’s emography consisting of the hangŭl letters may look simple, yet is profoundly powerful in expressing the ki (氣) or vital energy of heaven and earth, and of humans. His emography is a concrete visible manifestation of the ki connecting humans to the universe and nature. In doing so, he is experiencing and exploring the spirit of divine or the ultimate reality.

The process of emo-graphy for him was an arduous journey from writing or drawing a simple script as an object to experiencing the dynamic power of a character or script as a subject. His emography, thus, transcends the dichotomy of the subject and the object, the writer and the written. Moosan explores the mystery of his inner feelings and emotions by drawing characters or scripts in such a way that the object of his drawing cease to be a mere object, but becomes a powerful subject that strikes and invokes his inner feelings, imagination, and impulse to express himself.

Moosan allows his emotions to follow the spirit of the characters and scripts he draws. His emography is a creative re-formulation of the characters to expresses not only his emotion but also to grasp the spirit of the characters he draws. In other words, his emography is a combination of his emotion and the spirit of the character. His drawing makes a dead character a living being with dynamic power and spirit, and he allows this spirit to touch the depths of his emotion.

Moosan has a unique ability to express his deepest feelings in experiencing something he feels so real, immediate, powerful, and urgent. We may call it reality. Moosan’s art is his way of pursuing the desire and longing for reality. This reality for him is dao.

His emography, however, is not only an expression of his own experience of dao, but also how dao expresses itself through Moosan’s emography. After all, it is not Moosan who captured the way of reality or dao, but how dao captured Moosan’s mind and heart. Moosan’s world of art is dominated by his spontaneity of letting dao takes its own course. Yes, Moosan’s emography is a demonstration of the spontaneity in following the spirit of dao.