Who is Ahn Sang Soo?

Ahn Sang Soo (1952 – ) is a pioneer in Korean typography. And he currently has an exhibition on at the Seoul Museum of Art. The exhibition –  Nalgae  PaTI  – shows his work (his pen name is Nalgae) along with that of students at his institute, PaTI (Paju Typography Institute). The exhibition covers 30 years of work from the hangeul font he designed in 1985 up to the present work at PaTI. For me it was interesting to get a taste of Korean typography, an area that I really wasn’t familiar with at all.



Ahn Sang Soo’s first claim to fame is his pioneering hangeul font that is named after him.

Before Ahn sang Soo came up with this font, all the elements of a hangeul character had to fit into a square structure. (So when you learn to write hangeul, or Chinese characters, you use squared paper, not lined, to practise fitting the characters in each square).

But Ahn Sang Soo freed hangul from its square frame and experimented with different structures.

Here’s 학 (hak) in hangeul. It’s made up of three parts. ㅎ,   ㅏ,  ㄱ.  Traditionally, the bottom consonant ㄱ should fill the whole square but in the ahn sang soo font it’s positioned over on the right leaving space on the left.

ahn sang soo font 학


Another of his famous fonts was named after his favourite Dadaist poet I-sang. This time the separate components of the hangeul characters are broken up and set at different heights so together they look musical. In fact he wrote a children’s song in this font. See here for this and more examples of his work.


In the Isang font his pen name nalgae 날개 looks like this…

seoul museum of art날개

Seoul Museum of Art 서울 시립 미술관 looks like this…

seoul museum of art서울 시립

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 08.50.46미술관


HOLLYEORA (BE IMMERSED) 2017, acrylic on canva

My favourite part of the exhibition was a collection of large  ‘contemporary folk paintings’ or ‘new letter paintings’  which blend images with hangeul.


The info board explained that although folk art was very popular in the late Joseon period, it was done by unknown artists for the common people and was looked down on by the traditional arts. But Ahn Sang Soo was inspired by the simplicity and sincerity of these artists.

You can see the ㅎ (hiut) letter at the top of this painting. He has experimented with the hiut letter over the years as in the work entitled Blossom Hangeul where the hiut letters are blossom on the tree. And also in an interesting series called from alpha to hiut.


There are more pics from the exhibition here at this blog.




Visual Communication Designer and Director of Paju typography Institute (PaTI) Ahn Sang Soo graduated from Hongik University (famous for Art and Design) where he also taught for many years. (picture DFA website)

He started out as an advertising designer in a large company but then became an art editor for various magazines. He created his own alternative art and culture magazine bogoseo/bogoseo (report/report).  His pioneering spirit also led him to open the first internet cafe in Korea, and later he set up Typochanji – the first Seoul Typography biennale.

He has worked with hangeul for over 30 years experimenting in letter font design, typography, editorial design, logo type design, poster production, wall installation, letter performance, letter work, silk screen, and ceramic tiles. After he began to experiment with font he founded Ahn Graphics, a design firm. He has 4 major fonts in hangeul and has won lots of awards including most recently the DFA (Design For Asia) lifetime achievement award 2016 from Hong Kong.


If you go to his facebook page or his website  you will find lots of portraits of the subjects covering one eye. This series of pictures were part of the one eye exhibition where he asked the subjects to, yes, cover one eye! He started doing this in 1988 when he tried it for a self portrait and became fascinated with it. This is an ongoing project and he has taken over 30,000 pictures and 5,000 subjects!

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