Night Talk oil on canvas 85 x 65 inches 2016

Night Talk
oil on canvas
85 x 65 inches 2016

 

GAHEE PARK

 

GaHee Park’s figurative paintings are perverse and erotic, but in an incredibly sweet and intimate way.  Her figures are loose and sculpted, her colors vibrant and playful, often times not reflecting reality or truth, but rather resonating an emotional and intuitive meaning through their usage.  Her narratives function in interior, private spaces, with windows and mirrors operating as vantage points of revelation, extending the narrative space and also confusing the perspective of the scene, altering the relationship between the viewer and the figures.  The viewer tends to take on the role of a voyeur, peering into these private, intimate spaces and moments from a removed, other space.  Animals and plants are often present within her works, reflecting notions of domesticity, innocence, and upbringing, often mirroring the sexual acts that are occurring around them.   While graphic in her depiction of bodies and erotic acts, Park all the while maintains an undercurrent of joy, humor, and tenderness within this painted representations.  Her work utilizes erotic imagery to explore and question larger ideas of personal vs. public space, social constructions of private and intimate relationships, and an interest in the body as a subject and object for action and representation.

 

I was first introduced to Park’s work while she was an MFA student at Hunter College, and was immediately enraptured by her rich color palettes, nonlinear narratives, and crude subject matter.  Born and raised in South Korea, GaHee Park attended SungKyunKwant University in Seoul where she studied art, transferring to Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA where she earned her BFA in Painting.  In 2015, she completed her MFA in Painting at Hunter College, NY.  She has had solo exhibitions at Pioneer Works (Brooklyn, NY 2016) and Marginal Utility Gallery (Philadelphia, PA 2015), along with recent group exhibitions at LaMaMAGalleriea (New York, NY 2017), EssEfEff gallery (Brooklyn, NY 2016), and David & Schweitzer Contemporary (Brooklyn, NY 2016) to name a few.  She currently lives and works in Astoria, NY.   

 

 

How did you first start painting and making work?

 

I was always interested in drawing, particularly in animations when I was very young.  But making specific stories and narratives wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I decided to become a painter.  When I talk about my background in art, I have to talk about my family as well.  I grew up in Korea, and my parents are very strict Catholics.  I really loved drawing the body, and as a kid I was very curious about sex because growing up in Catholicism everything about that was very distorted and not talked about.  I drew images of the body that were maybe a little bit perverse for my parents, and every time I drew something they would burn it.  I was about ten or eleven at the time, but it just made me more and more interested in drawing and art, and also depictions of the body and sexuality.  I think something just grew up inside of me.

 

I really hated staying in Korea as a woman.  It is very Confucius and strict, and I felt very oppressed mentally growing up.  Physically too -- nothing fit me properly.  I wouldn’t fit into women’s shoes, I had to wear men’s shoes.  It was very humiliating, and I hate to think about that because it was also such an unnecessary humiliation.  I went to college in Korea, but then I dropped out and moved to Philadelphia where I went to school at Tyler School of Art and studied painting.

 

 

 

Butt on Two-Face
oil on canvas
48 x 36 2016

It was very hard when I first moved here because I didn’t speak English very well.  Race was also very big for me then because I had to realize how racism and race works in America, I just didn’t know about it.  It’s totally different in Korea.  After Tyler, I moved to New York for graduate school at Hunter College.

 

Can you talk about your current body of work and how that has developed from what you were working on at Hunter?

 

I was looking to develop my narration at Hunter.  I was interested in incorporating theatrical narratives, while still having a lot of layers about myself and my experiences within the works.  My paintings are always based on myself and my experience, but in a way where I project my experience onto a story or a scene instead of depicting it literally.  I look at a lot of movies and I’m interested in bodies’ movements in relation to the flow of social circumstances, where the entire story actually moves like a body itself.  I started to play with the body more and distorting it.  I’m a painter, so it’s really fun to play around and make them alive.

 

Your figures are really interesting because they also seem really molded and sculptural.

 

My friend told me that I’m a heavy painter because my works look very weighty and heavy.  I think it’s true.

 

How do you think about the body in the works, because the proportions are really exaggerated and the poses are very contorted or distorted?

 

It was a slow transition and I couldn’t make distorted bodies from the beginning.  I’m more comfortable with figures now and I like to work with abstraction at the same time through color, composition, and space.  I like to have those elements conflicting with one another and moving around within the painting because it begins to slowly move and push you forward.  I try to work with two different modes of painting --  one is very large in scale and has a lot of stories, and the other is very fast and playful.  I want to combine the two together, that’s my goal.

 

Studio Visit
oil on canvas
85 x 65 inches 2015

 

Some of the paintings depict scenes that are grounded in a more real space, while others are a lot more surreal and exist in another world that is more imagined.

 

I think that there should always be a reason to put things somewhere.  When I try to be decorative or illustrative, I end up ruining the work.  I’m always observing myself and trying to place things with decisiveness and reason.

 

What is your work process like creating a painting?

 

I’m always thinking about the work I did before, so I think that affects my new works and process.  I think it’s all cumulative and I try to make then interconnected in a way.  I draw, but sometimes it doesn’t work when I scale it up to the canvas.  I try to make a lot of drawings about one image, reworking them so they can develop and work.

 

How do you approach color, especially with the more abstracted figures, and how do you approach abstracting a narrative?

 

When I started playing with skin color, for example when I decided to make blue skin, I was thinking a lot about blood and dead bodies because they no longer have that pink color to them.  I also thought it would be fun to make figures with different colors that are based upon their emotions, so my approach to color is sometimes emotion based.  I try to use a lot of different colors, but it’s hard to put everything together -- sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t, which is why painting is so fun.  It’s visual language, so your eyes know what makes sense and why, and it’s good to practice your vision and question why things don’t work and why they do.  But I really like to see an instant visual decision.  I don’t start with a color palette, and I usually have no idea where it’s going to go.

 

 

Face Distorted
oil on canvas
44 x 50 inches 2017

Ass on Face
oil on canvas
42 x 50 inches 2016

 

How do you approach sexuality within your work?

 

It’s maybe perverse to say, but I think about my parents a lot.  I feel a lot like I’m always a baby or I’m very immature and naive.  I think that my parents kind of brainwashed me a bit, but I like to talk about oppression and repression a lot because I think everybody has some experience with that.  I also think a lot about education and parenting -- what you’re told and not told.  I like to play with different ideas of upbringings and how they come together, and I like to imagine how some character grew up in my mind and how they interact with with other people.  That’s always incorporated into depictions of sexuality for me.  I like to think that the figures in my works are doing something normal and that they’re supposed to be like that, even when they might seem perverse.  In terms of relationships with other people, there don’t have to be any rules and I like to play with that.  I sometimes see my paintings very specifically in terms of the characters and the narrative, but the viewer doesn’t have to see them that way and can think something else.  Sexuality is something that I don’t really try to make sexy.  It can be grotesque, but it’s always relationship based, and I think about how the characters got into that relationship.

 

 

Woman Reading
oil on canvas
43 x 32" 2016

 

 

 


I like to think about an animal’s vision a lot.  When I first moved to the U.S., I was an observer and as an Asian woman in America a lot of people didn’t care about my vision, I felt invisible.  In the very beginning of my American life I didn’t want to talk to anyone and I didn’t want to develop my social skills, so it was always good to have an animal next to me. I began to relate to that kind of feeling of looking at people and observing them.  I was thinking about how people are so comfortable with their pets, like people have sex in the same bed as their pet and you don’t care.  I don’t know, I like to imagine what the dog or cat thinks and sees and also about that intimate relationship.  You don’t really know what they think.  People think of animals are very innocent, but animals are also animals and there is something very wild about them, even when their domesticated.  

 

Drama
oil on canvas
72 x 80 inches 2016

How do you approach perspective and what interests you in manipulating that?

 

I started working with perspective after I got very into the film director Brian de Palma.  I really like his films and I think it’s so smart how he always has a lot of different perspectives when something big happens in his films.  I wanted to adopt that kind of thing into my work.  But it’s not a movie it’s a painting, so I have to be careful with using it.  Mostly I like to extend the perspective and space.  I’m very interested in making weird spaces, which can happen with color, composition, or aggressively cutting up space.  I used the split screen in some and I might do it again, but I like to think of space as extending.  It’s two dimensional, so it’s easy to make a big space and I like the confusion of it when you split it up.  I also like mirrors a lot, and I like to think about the painting as a mirror with what you can and can’t see.

 

Can you talk about your interest in interior space?

 

I think private spaces are very interesting because in public space you are given rules from society about how to play and act, but in private space you are able to develop your own society and rules.  I like to develop that private life from the beginning of my paintings.  

I usually always paint similar things, or something is always repeated.  I think about indoor space with a lot of domesticated things, like a cat or dog, trees or plants...you buy or adopt these things so it looks good in your house or to brighten your life, but the purpose is for you and it’s not actually real.  Everything is domesticated.  You have to control things and you’re responsible for what is alive.  When I moved to the U.S. I had a dog from when I lived with my parents, but I wasn’t able to bring him with me and he lived a very lonely life after I left.  I feel really bad for him because I feel like he was my responsibility and I left him.

 

 

Woman with Cigar
oil on canvas
50 x 44 inches 2016

 

 

Can you talk a little more about how you incorporate narrative into the works -- are you starting with a scene or story and how does that get articulated?

I focus on emotions rather than stories.  I like to get inspired by other stories from movies or other paintings and then develop them.  It’s hard to explain, and I feel like people read different things from them, but they’re always based on a feeling.  It’s not really a story, but I start to describe what’s going on and then make drawings and paint.

 

 Tide with a Dead Man oil on canvas 52 x 60 inches 2017

Tide with a Dead Man
oil on canvas
52 x 60 inches 2017

Kiss on Cat
oil on canvas
30 x 24 inches 2017

I focus on emotions rather than stories.  I like to get inspired by other stories from movies or other paintings and then develop them.  It’s hard to explain, and I feel like people read different things from them, but they’re always based on a feeling.  It’s not really a story, but I start to describe what’s going on and then make drawings and paint.

Butt and Cat
oil on canvas
28 x 32 inches 2016

 

What other people, things, or movies are informing you work and what are you looking at and thinking about?

 

There is a Polish writer, WitoldGombrowicz, who I really like.  I don’t know how to explain it, but his books resonate with me.  They’re very surreal and weird, but there’s always a strange logic within them that you have to follow through until the end and that’s how you understand what is actually going on.  It’s a little nonlinear, and sometimes you don’t really understand why something is happening, but it always winds up making sense at the end.  

There are a lot of authors I really like.  I love Charlotte Brontë -- I grew up with Jane Eyre  and it affected me a lot inter terms of how I think.  I enjoy Philip Roth.  It’s very unrelated, but I like the development of the characters in his books.  I like Nicole Eisenman’s paintings a lot. I also really love perverse Catholic paintings and Balthus as well.

 

Potluck Party
oil on canvas
50 x 50" 2015

Sleeping
oil on canvas
70 x 60 inches 2017

Butt on Face
oil on canvas
60 x 72 inches 2016

There are a lot of authors I really like.  I love Charlotte Brontë -- I grew up with Jane Eyre  and it affected me a lot inter terms of how I think.  I enjoy Philip Roth.  It’s very unrelated, but I like the development of the characters in his books.  I like Nicole Eisenman’s paintings a lot. I also really love perverse Catholic paintings and Balthus as well.

 

How do you see your work developing in the future and are you thinking about developing certain aspects of it?

 

I don’t really know.  I think I’ve finally gotten freer than my older images.  I think that’s actually my goal, to be more free.  My teachers were very abstract female painters.  I learned painting from them and I know their challenge a lot of what it is to make your own world.  As a figurative painter, I have somewhat different language, but it’s also important to me to develop various visual languages.

 

 

What is your studio practice like?

 

I don’t have another job right now, I just paint all the time.  I wake up and eat and procrastinate until around 11am.  Then I start to paint.  Because my studio is at home, I’m also cooking and cleaning and playing with my cat in between painting.  I think I work 7 to 8 hours a day, but the rest of the time I’m looking at my paintings or thinking about them.  I really love having my studio in my apartment.  Some people don’t, but I feel very anxious when I go out for a long time, and I like to eat well and live a good life, so for me it’s a perfect set up.

 

 

Play with a Cat
oil on canvas
26 x 34 inches 2017