Artsy: Anna Park’s Monumental Drawings Capture a World in Motion

December 9, 2021

Harley Wong

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“Sorry, I feel bad that I don’t have much work in here,” said Anna Park, apologizing before welcoming me into her spacious Bushwick studio one sunny September afternoon. Inside, tens of dozens of panels—at least five feet tall in height—leaned against every available wall, many of them stacked slightly haphazardly. All of them bear traces of the artist’s signature charcoal markmaking. The panels that I could see all resembled the artist’s finished works. One expansive, three-panel depiction of a game show scene could have been the centerpiece of an exhibition. 

“These are all the works that never made the edit for shows, or some unfinished pieces that I felt weren’t ready,” said the 25-year-old artist, explaining that she makes roughly twice as many works than she needs for an exhibition. These works hadn’t made the cut for her fall 2021 solo show “Hello, Stranger” at Blum & Poe in Tokyo. “I do like to have them around the studio to inform my future work,” she added.

Park is known for her monumental charcoal drawings that capture a world in motion. In her signature frenetic swirls and sharp angles, friends stumble on dance floors, entertainers perform for faceless crowds, and strangers brawl at bars. New York’s frenzied energy heavily influenced the Daegu-born, Salt Lake City–raised artist’s current style. She also finds inspiration online and from the media she’s consuming at a given time, be that a tennis match or reality love competitions. The last three years—and 2021 in particular—have witnessed Park’s meteoric rise in the art world, the force of which rivals the vitality of her drawings.

Park only just received her MFA from the New York Academy of Art (NYAA) in 2020, though she entered the program without a BFA. Previously, she was studying painting at Pratt Institute, but dropped out after two years. “I wanted to be a painter because a ‘true’ artist paints,” Park said, nodding to the hierarchy between drawing and painting. She got into NYAA through persistence. “I think it’s just a matter of being annoying enough,” she laughed. “I pretty much begged them, ‘Please let me come to this program!’” Park entered the grad program as a drawing major, sensing that there were unexplored areas where she wanted to take the medium.

At a 2019 NYAA open studio exhibition, Park’s drawings captured the attention of artist Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS. He promptly purchased a piece and posted it to Instagram, sharing the work with his throngs of followers. Since then, Park has since experienced consecutive years of firsts.

In fall 2019, she opened her first-ever solo show, “Honeymoon,” at Ross+Kramer’s East Hampton location. In 2020, Park held her first solo exhibition in Europe, titled “On Tilt.” at T293 in Rome. And 2021 has seen her works debut in Asia and enter the permanent collections of four museums: the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Pérez Art Museum Miami. She also held a solo show in New York at Half Gallery in the spring. To cap things off, this December, it was announced that Park gained gallery representation with Blum & Poe.

Looking ahead to 2022, the artist is already confirmed to exhibit Intermission (2021) in a group show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art by way of the drawing’s owner, singer-songwriter Billie Eilish (who posted a selfie on Instagram with the work this past November). Park will also have her first solo exhibition in Los Angeles at Blum & Poe.

Back at the young artist’s Brooklyn studio, it’s unsurprising to see that this fervor—that we see in her work and the enthusiastic reception for it—has bled into Park’s workspace. The walls are scribbled with words such as “pleasure to be with you” and “have it your way,” fleeting phrases that Park latches onto while listening to podcasts and interviews. She quickly jots them down for safekeeping before returning to her drawings. “They inform the context of future works or build the narrative for the ones I’m working on currently,” Park said. “It’s a way of having my train of thought as a visual reminder while I work in the studio.”

One expression written on her wall, “it must go on,” is also the title of an artwork in “Hello, Stranger.” In the piece, a dark-haired woman wearing large hoop earrings is guided through a crowd. Foreign hands from unknown sources reach out and wrap around her, but the woman remains unbothered; she must reach her destination; the show must go on.

The theme of success, and the possibility of it all vanishing, is especially prevalent in Park’s recent works. It Must Go On (2021) implies in its title that something has gone awry. Meanwhile, Mind Over Matter (2021) illustrates failure more explicitly: a cowboy thrown off his loyal steed. In previous works, defeat was left ambiguous or occurred beyond the picture plane.

In her 2019 series of closely cropped portraits of tennis players, Park emphasized the effort exerted by athletes, seen through their contorted facial expressions. She never revealed, however, whether they successfully lobbed the tennis ball back at their opponent. Similarly, Now You See Me (2021)—which debuted in “Pluck Me Tender” at Half Gallery—suggests through its title that the hypervisibility and media attention experienced by the drawing’s protagonist is fleeting.

While Park leaned into her background in figurative art for “Hello, Stranger,” she often experiments in the realm of abstraction. “I’m constantly asking myself, ‘Can I convey a message or an energy without using the figure as a vessel for my emotions?’” she said. While preparing for “Pluck Me Tender,” Park tried to determine which camp she should belong to—abstraction or figuration. 

“The abstract works actually are way more challenging for me personally. They take a lot longer, and I haven’t gotten to a point where I’ve done it enough to know when to stop or when to go further,” the artist said. “With the portraits, I’m used to rendering it to a certain point, composing them a certain way.” Referring to one of the abstract drawings in her studio, she added, “I never placed it in a show, because I truly was going into it just trusting the marks instead of having a concept. It took me a while to be okay with that, to allow myself to move my hand freely.”

Heading into 2022, Park plans to continue pushing her practice into new directions. “I don’t think I can do charcoal forever,” she said. “I’ll forever love it, and I love drawing, but I think it’s time to move forward.” In the corner of her studio, Park has a small desk covered with small canvases and loose sheets of paper where she had started experimenting with watercolor and ink.

“It’s just a question of not wanting to be pigeon-holed,” she reflected. “We’ll see; it’s just scary, and there are all these other pressures, too.” Though she doesn’t elaborate on this, Park may perhaps be referring to the increased pressure that comes with the newfound attention she’s garnered in the art world and beyond. Earlier in our conversation, she shared, “When you’re making work, the notion of the viewer is present constantly, whether in the studio or in my head.”

Reflecting on her aspirations during graduate school, Park reminisced, “The dream was always to go larger because I love the idea of being consumed by the drawings. They’re so busy and chaotic that you’re almost thrust into this world I’ve created.” Now that she’s achieved this and more, Park turns toward the possibility of exploring new terrain—continuously growing, never complacent.

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Blum & Poe Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo will be closed for the summer from August 14 through August 28.