May is usually my favourite month in Korea. Clear skied and sunny, it is mostly spared the yellow dust of early spring while exuding a cheerful warmth that sees the return of t-shirts, al fresco beers and early evening barbecues. This year, sadly, it’s been a bit of a washout. This past Sunday continued in this unseasonal vain, and though it didn’t actually rain too much, clouds hung heavy all day. What better time, then, to head to a small, heavily concealed gallery near the Blue House and check out an exhibition of an English designer whose artwork became synonymous with some of the most overblown albums of the 1970s?
Anyone who, as I did, used to love rummaging through second-hand record shops will have come across the work of Roger Dean. Though his designs adorn the album covers of such hard and soft rock titans as Uriah Heep, Budgie and Asia, it is undoubtedly his work with Yes that remains his best known. With Yes being one of the willfully difficult bands I liked in my mid-teens, it was with bemused pleasure that I found this retrospective of his work — complete with impeccably proggy title “Dragon’s Dream” — taking place at the Daelim Contemporary Art Museum, a pleasant little gallery tucked into the back of a small lane in Hyoja-dong.
Dean’s work, as should be pretty clear from the above pics, was always of a fantastical, new-agey bent, with lots of floating islands, rustic backdrops and a dragon or two. And if you noticed more than a slight resemblance between Dean’s paintings and the scenery in turgid 3D megahit Avatar, you’re not alone. When quizzed about whether planet Pandora might have been inspired by a Yes album cover, Cameron himself apparently said: “It might have been, back in my pot-smoking days.”
To all but a very small number of the very few people reading this, Yes will be an unknown quantity. Part of the strangely British phenomenon of progressive rock — which enjoyed several years of huge success in the ’70s before being utterly demolished by punk — Yes were (at least in their “classic” early 1970s line-up) middle-class, classically trained musicians who employed finicky time signatures and hokey, pseudo-spiritual lyrics on songs that often lasted at least one side of an album. In their brand of serious, vaguely optimistic but ultimately message-free rock, they were, I think, the ideal match for Dean’s artwork.
Anyways, with that done, we took a bit of a look around Hyoja-dong, an area I’d never been to before.
Apropos of apparently nothing, just down the leafy street there was a small courtyard with what looked like a giant yellow pumpkin with black polka dots. The artsy theme continued with a couple more galleries, before we found a charming, apparently nameless, little coffee shop of the type that Seoul seems to do so well these days.
I had never even heard of Hyoja-dong before coming here, and it’s not, due to its small size, a place that would bear frequent visiting. But being able to find an entirely new area with cosy coffee shops and restaurants, second-hand stores apparently named after Russian cosmonauts (below), and, of course, retrospectives of Roger Dean is definitely one of the ongoing pleasures of living in Seoul.