A portrait of Busan

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Peter Dowling


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Despite hanging out with art-school girls during my university years I was never invited to ‘sit’ for a portrait, and there’s been a notable shortage of commissions ever since, writes Peter Dowling.

So it was the fulfilment of an unrealised bit of egomania today when I got to pose for all of 30 seconds to get my portrait painted at Gimhae International Airport.

Technology made it all possible – that, and the innovative spirit of Korea Airports Corporation (KAC), which manages this airport that serves Busan. Growth in traffic to South Korea’s second city has put pressure on the international terminal (which opened only in 2007), so to keep its commercial offer fresh KAC nabbed a piece of dead space to deliver something different for its passengers.


Sky Gallery, where I get to sit in front of a camera to have my ‘portrait’ painted, opened in July 2012 landside at the international terminal. It’s a tiny place that was previously just a vacant area under an escalator (another small outlet is located airside in the domestic terminal).

KAC has lifted the space from obscurity and made a vibrant attraction in the terminal, somewhere that travellers can get an artistic memento or buy a selection of prints.


Between the ‘sitting’ and having my oil painting rendered through Sky Gallery’s nifty printing process, my KAC hosts In Sik Park (Gimhae’s Terminal Operations & Planning Manager) and Seul Gi Han (PR Director) tell me how popular the outlet has been with families. Clearly getting an instant Madonna and Child sure beats ducking into a photo booth.

In Sik Park (left) and Seul Gi Han (right) with a noted art model

“We’re trying to maximise the space available for commercial operations,” Park tells me. That means not only using every available metre in the existing terminal, but making a planned response to Gimhae’s surging traffic from China, Japan and Southeast Asia. Next year work will begin on a major extension to the terminal.

And then, with a speed that would make Monet turn in his grave, the impressionist version of yours truly comes out framed and ready for art lovers around the world. All right then, maybe just in my dreams and in a quiet corner of my office. Yet regardless of aesthetics, Gimhae has effortlessly delivered me what airports worldwide aspire to do with a far bigger canvas than Sky Gallery’s miniature: a unique memento.

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