Over a year into lockdown, old rituals feel more like the stuff of past lives: brushes against strangers on a crowded dance floor, collisions with tourists in Times Square, packing into an 8am subway car, commuters sipping coffee and yawning all over each other. The charcoal-drawn scenes of the 24-year old South Korean artist Anna Park take us back to the quintessential chaos of pre-pandemic New York life, reminding us of what it felt like to live in constant motion. In Park’s painted universe, parties and pageants turn to pandemonium. Celebrations and social gatherings arrive at their crescendo, where euphoria looks a little farcical and a little monstrous.
In her latest show, Pluck Me Tender, at Half Gallery, opening today and on view for a month, groups mingle around bunches of flowers, objects and bodies obscured amidst a flurry of frenzied marks. For some, the flowers that appear in Park’s drawings may evoke nature, a stable refuge in pandemic times. Yet, they also gesture powerfully to ephemerality, Park tells Interview, a kind of memento mori denoting the impermanence of the moment: that every party must, eventually, end. To Park, the works function as “time capsules,” both in their traces of vintage Americana and in their relation to viewers’ personal memories of those freewheeling Before Times, all unmasked and uninhibited.
Despite the pandemic’s doldrums, Park has not slowed down much. After two years at Pratt, moving to Brooklyn by way of Utah, Park transferred to the New York Academy of Art, where the artist-toymaker KAWS spotted her work at a school event and instantly became an admirer. A flurry of opportunities quickly followed for the young artist, including a commissioned movie poster for David Fincher’s latest Oscar-nominated film Mank. On the occasion of her new show, we spoke to Park about art, pandemic life, and all her “chaotic energy.”
On dispelling assumptions: Maybe it looked like I was getting these club or party scenes from firsthand experience. Which I’m not really much–– I’m quite the opposite. I’m more like a hermit now. I’m usually just in the studio or––I don’t know––just on YouTube at home or something.
On Utah: “It was super suburbia. It was maybe what… I mean, in Korea, I was watching Disney Channel when I was little and I had this idea of what being an American kid would be like. And then when I moved to Utah, it was so quiet, and lot of things in hindsight now, I’m just like, ‘That was kind of not that great.’ I mean, you’re so young, so you kind of just accept the fact that you feel very othered constantly, because it was a lot less diverse and there was the heavy religious aspect too, which my family wasn’t a part of. It was very traditional. True suburbia, I guess.”
On moving to New York: “I think it was just these overwhelming sensations. There’s so much visual stimuli every day. I think it was just so much zero-to-a-hundred, and it happened to be reflected in the work because that was one of my only outlets. I had to put the energy somewhere. You’re really not alone for the most part of your day. You’re constantly bumping into people. [The work] is reflective of our own experiences.”
On Google Images as inspiration: “It’s like this influx of information. Especially now we’re on our phones even more so, or on the computer more, at least I am, and we’re just constantly fed information, images. We’re bombarded by that every day, so I figured it was only natural that it became more incorporated into the work too. It’s overwhelming sometimes, but I feel like the work, my drawings themselves, are a bit overwhelming, when you first step into room with them. Because at first glance, it just seems so much noise and all this copy of marks. And then if you sit with it long enough, there’s little Easter eggs that I’ve hidden here that are more recognizable, or they devolve into just abstract marks. That’s maybe how I process information too. It’s kind of like these massive clouds that I’m trying to make sense of.”
On drawing flowers in lockdown: “I mean, you saw how deserted the city was [during early lockdown]. I was just like, ‘This is fucking depressing.’ None of us really knew what was going on. So I think maybe in a way, I wanted to go somewhere that just afforded me peace. It’s like you’re reaching for more simple things and reminding yourself, ‘I have to be more grateful for things.’ I think we’re so like, ‘Go, go, go, go,’ and maybe my work was reflective of that too. When I was seeing those crowded club party scenes, it was just like—you were just so in that moment, and then you’re off to the next kind of thing. With this most current body of work—maybe I wanted this to be like, ‘I have to sit with myself and with the work too.’”
On chaos: “I’m probably a little chaotic, but always trying to make sense of through the chaos. That’s probably in my work—chaos, but restraint as well. Maybe that’s my personality too. It’s like I’m always trying to refrain from making an ass of myself.”