Until his flight to Paris (1904-57)
Born in 1904 in Hongseong, Korea, Lee Ungno liked to paint since a young age, and dreamed of becoming a painter while receiving traditional instruction in Chinese and calligraphy at Seodang. ‘Goam, 顧菴’ is the nom-de-plume that he adopted in 1933, taking it over ‘Juk-sa, 竹史’, a previous nickname given by his guru, Haegang, Kim Gyu-jin.
In 1923, Ungno became 19 years old and moved to Seoul with the dream of becoming a skilled calligraphist and painter. He practiced literati painting under the instruction of Kim Gyu-jin, master of traditional bamboo painting, and in the following year, his bamboo painting, ‘Cheong-juk’ was selected for the 3rd Chosun Art Exposition, making his debut to the art world. After that, he began to focus on developing his own painting styles, and in 1931, his other bamboo painting with the same title, ‘Cheong-juk’ won the grand-prix at the 10th Chosun Art Exposition. This enabled him to establish his name more firmly in the art world. ‘Bamboo’ remained Ungno's most familiar subject from the moment he took his first steps as a painter, when developing his own styles, and when practicing Western abstract art in Paris: it was like a lifelong friend as well as a symbol of Lee Ungno.