New York

GaHee Park, Family Jewels, 2017, oil on canvas, 48 × 60".

GaHee Park, Family Jewels, 2017, oil on canvas, 48 × 60".

GaHee Park


GaHee Park, Family Jewels, 2017, oil on canvas, 48 × 60".

There are three people in the room. The mustachioed man on the right shades his eyes beneath an ocher hat. A cigar sits assertively between his middle and index fingers, emitting a plume of smoke that seeps across the scene like the beam of a flashlight, its haze illuminating the nude woman reclining in the pool outside. A second man occupies the left side of the space, his legs crossed and his gaze turned toward the window. A glass of pink champagne rests in his right hand, pinkie erect in a gesture at once vaguely pretentious and potentially perverse. Someone has placed a hand on his shoulder, red-painted fingernails peering down at his digit’s penile provocation. Perhaps a proclamation of interest, or a warning to look away. His sight line catches a second woman standing in the water, her reddish skin echoing the bright hue of the rose inside. It is unclear whether these women are aware their privacy has been breached, or if this is an intentional public display. Maybe they’re all swingers. Somehow the cigar man’s thin gray ponytail makes this interpretation seem plausible. Plus, what’s with the men’s matching rings? Or maybe they’re a collective of creeps secretly violating what would be an otherwise perfect day to sit in the sun. Playful or sinister or something else, what slowly becomes clear about the tableau depicted in GaHee Park’s Family Jewels (all works 2017) is its evasion of a concrete narrative.

This compositional reticence coursed throughout the bright, dense paintings in Park’s recent exhibition at Motel in Brooklyn. There was a curious thrill in not being able to fully comprehend what was taking place. A sense of possibility was preserved, allowing multiple perspectives to emerge and engaging viewers’ impulses to devise their own stories. All energy is potential. This effect was heightened by Park’s fragmentary, at times cubistic mode of depiction. Forms don’t always add up, and continuity is consistently thwarted. In Kissing in the Tree, the trunk of a birch or maybe an oak stretches up across the painting, dividing the composition as its branches perform further segmentations to the left and right. A tangle of bodies is discernible in the spaces between these arboreal bifurcations. The top of a woman’s pink leg disappears behind a bough, only to emerge green on the other side; a tongue sticks out where an arm was expected; two dark limbs contain a burst of fern leaves, whose tendrils variously appear before and behind the coupling figures. Park expands these disjunctions beyond the spatial, signaling shifts in temporality through color and formal recurrences. An argyle rug’s bright-red diamonds become deep burgundy, perhaps signifying a turn from day to night, while the same martini appears to have jumped from one painting into another. Elsewhere, three fish swam in a bicolor bowl, their gray shadows imbued with a solidity that made them seem like premonitions of a future as food, or the corpses of compatriots lost to a culinary spree.

A series of intimate encounters accumulates through these slippages in time and place. Each of the five paintings on view was an exploration of interior space, both psychological and physical, evincing Park’s interest in the impositions of publicness and the necessity of creating private realms. She has described her experience of moving to the United States after growing up in South Korea as an encounter with invisibility that led to a consideration of the ways in which plants and animals, notably cats, see our world. “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.” How do these domestic beings perceive us? They seem to form a gentler chorus, without threat of ridicule or judgment, but are we ever really free to be however we want? We can form covert bonds with these animal and vegetal voyeurs, pushing against normativity and breaking through to new ways of inhabiting the world into which we’ve all been thrust. Now, though, we seem to have become the enforcers of convention. In private, we can––and often must––redraw the lines we’re expected to toe, yet lines always remain.

––Lina Kavaliunas