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Park Gwangsoo, "Corn's Memory," 2023

Seoul-Based Artist Gwangsoo Park Paints Kaleidoscopic Landscapes of Color

Following his recent exhibition, “Copper and Hand,” at Hakgojae Gallery, Gwangsoo Park offered Whitewall some insight into his current exploration of color, creative influences, and the personal connections to land and body that drive his work.

When asked about the places that most influence his work, Gwangsoo Park says his hometown, Cheorwon, is in every fiber of his being. He describes it as a place of extremes––welcoming and harsh, beautiful and terrible. This duality has reappeared throughout Park’s practice, a constant exploration of shadow and color, maker and made, birth and death. He is an observer of cycles in process; he recalls ancient stories and retells them in new form. 

Over the years, Park has come to be admired for his intuitive use of rich color and exploration of eternal themes. The Seoul-based painter employs memories of the natural world to create his landscapes, rearranging figures as they appear from strokes of fluid oil paint. Following his recent exhibition, “Copper and Hand,” at Hakgojae Gallery, Park offered Whitewall some insight into his current exploration of color, creative influences, and the personal connections to land and body that drive his work.

Gwangsoo Park 2019 solo exhibition at Hakgojae Gallery Portrait of Gwangsoo Park, courtesy of the artist and Hakgojae Gallery.

WHITEWALL: The work in your most recent exhibition, “Copper and Hand,” employed iridescent copper alongside representations of nature to prompt larger contemplation of enduring, universal threads. As we continue into 2024, how are you pursuing these themes, and are there any new ideas coming up in the studio?

GWANGSOO PARK: I would like to continue to expand on my current theme. More specifically, I would like to mix human and natural figures more actively in my paintings. The concept of nature within me is a vague experience of the terrain I sensed in my childhood. Big mountains and clear air, dark and dangerous valleys, trees that grew randomly, like tangled hair.

When I recall these memories, I feel like I’m uncovering a part of someone that I’d forgotten, so I’m interested in pushing the boundaries of the human form. And then, as always, I go to the art store and buy some paints. Color is still a stimulus for me.

I intuitively pick the colors I want out of a sea of colors. It’s like when you’re walking and suddenly come across a stone that catches your eye, often with colors reminiscent of a glowing mineral or a peculiar plant, and they grow imperfectly on the canvas, permeating and mixing with each other to create a dramatic atmosphere. It’s fun to use unexpected colors.

It’s not specific yet, but I’m envisioning a narrative animation where the creator, the creation, and the relationship between the two of them are playing out in a variety of ways.

“When I recall these memories, I feel like I’m uncovering a part of someone that I’d forgotten, so I’m interested in pushing the boundaries of the human form,” — Gwangsoo Park

Park Gwangsoo, Park Gwangsoo, “Gatherer,” 2023, Oil on canvas, 116.8×91 cm, courtesy of the artist and Hakgojae Gallery.

Invoking the Theme of Disappearance with Parallels Between Maker and Work

WW: Your works often show characters marveling at nature, as well as in moments of struggle or intense effort. How do you select these narratives, and what interests you most about them?

GP: As an extension of the larger theme of disappearance and annihilation, I began my current work by establishing the concept of the creator-created and drawing parallels between maker and work, God and human, and parent and child.

In the exhibition “Copper and Hand” in 2023, the figure of the human being acting within the inescapable nature was prominent: walking, standing, lying down, sleeping, touching and making things. There is a respect and compassion for the body to exist and live on its own. I see these forms and states in my daily life. They may not seem significant, but they are the behaviors that have sustained us.

In the paintings, I want the form of the body to be a little bit pretty—it’s more of an image than a realistic body. The figures in the paintings are using their hands and feet to support themselves, using each of their own gravity. That’s why they have big hands and feet. When the figures lie down, they adhere to the terrain like flowing, flexible forms, resisting gravity in their own way.

Small Mountain (2023) depicts a scene where a person is scraping and gathering soil to create something. I wanted to emphasize the fingers as pillars by portraying them vertically. Due to the strong fingers, the bold traces of fine soil would draw diagonal lines, and I hoped that the contour lines from the shoulders to the legs of the figure and the lines of piled-up mounds of soil would intersect, creating a similarity in form.

Installation view of Gwangsoo Park’s “Copper and Hand,” 2023 Installation view of Gwangsoo Park’s “Copper and Hand,” 2023, courtesy of the artist and Hakgojae Gallery.

Emotions and Sensations Linked to Cheorwon Emerge Naturally

WW: You previously mentioned that the places in your paintings are imagined, yet rooted in lived experience. Can you tell us about some of the real places that have influenced your work? What qualities do they have?

GP: I think everyone has a basic type of landscape that comes to their mind when they think of the word “landscape.” For me, the landscape of my hometown, Cheorwon, has been ingrained in me since childhood and resides in every part of my being.

The rugged terrain of the deep mountains, the chilling presence of the military demarcation line, the mixture of friendliness and cruelty in the small villages, and the wildness of the landscape. The countless flocks of crows next to fields, the tiger-patterned Jindo dog tied up on the way home, and the corn covered in blue onion bags, the red villas on the hill and the chestnut farm next door seen from the rooftop, the harsh events that might have occurred in the dark blue mountains, the minefields and the demilitarized zones where nature’s rawness and menacing coolness coexist, the gathering of injured migratory birds, and the remains of buildings destroyed by past wars.

These things come together to create a space in my subconscious mind. When I start painting, I decide the entire canvas with my brushstrokes, rather than sketching a specific landscape. In this process, the physical sensation and emotions related to the geographical space of Cheorwon that I possess seem to emerge naturally, and I enjoy this unfolding process.

Park Gwangsoo, Park Gwangsoo, “Small Mountain,” 2023, Oil on canvas, 162.2×130 cm, courtesy of the artist and Hakgojae Gallery.

From Black-and-White Paintings to Canvases of Vibrant Colors

WW: Over the past five years, you’ve come to be known for your kaleidoscopic paintings and expertise with color. How do you determine when to work in only black and white? What ideas come up?

GP: I’ve been working in black and white for a long time, since the beginning of my artistic career: the basic shapes of the painting, the dots and lines without color, manipulating their thickness and length.

In black-and-white paintings, when drawing the lines, black paint is pushed along, revealing the white background where the paint has been wiped away, emphasizing volume and contrast. The boundaries of the form are not clear-cut, appearing more ambiguous and undefined on both sides. In my previous artist statement, I mentioned, “The black lines become outlines of the forest, then darkness, then branches. They are constantly changing roles, expanding this world.” I still find that when I draw in black and white, the lines are constantly changing roles, giving the painting a sense of movement.

When working with multiple colors, I choose two or three colors first. As they are painted on the canvas, I enjoy the process of the distribution of vibrant colors created as these colors meet and interact. I explore the states that may resemble landscapes, objects, or even appear as light or material. It’s like molding shapes while kneading clay. I try to create as many extreme collisions as possible, rather than just using different colors. I begin with a simple idea, and the thoughts evolve naturally as the painting process unfolds. When the colors intersect sufficiently, a figure emerges from the boundaries. Therefore, the title is also decided after the drawing, as time passes.

“When the colors intersect sufficiently, a figure emerges from the boundaries,” — Gwangsoo Park

Park Gwangsoo, Park Gwangsoo, “Heavy Sky,” 2023, Oil on canvas, 227.3×181.8 cm, courtesy of the artist and Hakgojae Gallery.

Artistic Influences of People, Environments, Music, and More

WW: Many of your paintings address essential themes of creative cycles and seasons. Are there any artists, writers, philosophers, or makers who influence or inspire your exploration? Do you see yourself as working in a clear lineage or community?

GP: My inspirations range from people to environments, from artists I admire like Pierre Bonnard, Philip Guston, and Hong Seung-Hye to the timeless music by Bach, the end-of-the-century ambience of nineties Japanese animation, colorful images of flora and fauna, the mood of Korean idol music videos, and the walkway in front of my house. Rather than following a specific lineage, I find myself pursuing what I desire. What I consider important is the natural integration of these influences into my current artistic space.

Installation view of Gwangsoo Park’s “Copper and Hand,” 2023 Installation view of Gwangsoo Park’s “Copper and Hand,” 2023, courtesy of the artist and Hakgojae Gallery.

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