For her first solo exhibition at Perrotin Paris, and in France, GaHee Park explores the magical potentials within reality and interpersonal relationships, subverting contemporary conservatism and societal fright. Born in 1985 in South Korea, where she was raised and spent most of her adolescence, Park eventually decided to study in the United States. By leaving her native country, she released herself from a certain hold it had on her—both familial and religious—of oppressive silences and constraints.
GaHee Park's paintings embody the sentimental, the delicate, the affectionate. Full of desires, the artist—liberated, emancipated, like her work—showcases a love of uninhibited painting, between conflict and harmony. In constant tension between an almost palpable sense of intimacy and of dark humour, her work often shifts towards absurdity and illusion. At times funny, disturbing, fluid and organic, her painting is as fulfilling as her drawing. The latter is a faster technique, as some of her paintings can take several months or years to be finalised. Populated by strong bodies, simultaneously large and graceful, her work is constantly situated in relation to spaces, venues and landscapes, often sunning or sleeping. The profusion of characters featured in her work immerses the viewer in a vaguely familiar cosmology. Park reveals what is hidden within the intimacy of everyday situations as a painstaking observer who uses a female gaze—her gaze—on the body, be it her own or others' (a woman, a man, a friend or a lover). To this human presence is added flora and fauna, an alliance—human and non-human, Western and Eastern, in the interstices of species and genres—that materialises through domestic scenes or still lifes. A community emerges before our eyes: one of pleasure, desire and precious freedom.
Her paintings are permeated by hands with manicured nails and many pairs of eyes, which have crucial connotations for the artist. Gazes multiply, everywhere: we look at each other, we eat, we taste, we drink, at the end of a meal or in a moment of relaxation. We kiss, we caress. In these intertwining moments—both visual and physical—the link, the connection, the relationship to oneself and to the other situate such painting between love and friendship, desire and comfort. As though in a dream, or a reenacted film scene, GaHee Park zooms in, takes sequence shots and multiplies temporalities using reflection, duplication, shadow or repetition. She references allegorical paintings from ancient and modern art, as well as popular culture. Everything becomes fluid, connects and metamorphoses between bodies with indistinct genders. Emotions combine, aligning or not, through distortions and transformations. Often, these are nocturnal pleasures where reflections of light appear in glasses or mirrors and participate in the multiplicity of interacting worlds. Here and there are bouquets of flowers and plants. A disturbance lies at the heart of this suspended timeframe, made up of interlinked stories and nested scenarios. There are as many realities present as there are points of view or emotions. While each painted or drawn moment is unique, the stories repeat themselves with infinite variations—GaHee Park's love of art appears as the real subject of these mirror effects, orchestrated to reflect life and vice versa. The border between reality and fiction is particularly porous, alluringly creating a flash of beauty amongst the stream of everyday life.
Mixing the sexual and the domestic, her eroticized paintings stray from conventions around the body, the nude and the relationship to sex or sexuality, refusing to submit to dominant aesthetic codes. Painting overrides a sectarian vision of the world: a world at war, in competition, mistrustful of everything. Painting confidence and symbiosis provides a feminist approach akin to Gaia, a symbol of scientific theories formulated by American microbiologist Lynn Margulis, who advocated for cooperation rather than competition between species. From Gaia to GaHee, there is a celebration of dangerous co-existence—human and non-human, aquatic, aerial and terrestrial—from shrimp to fish, spiders to rabbits. There is potential in quite simply being linked, tied together, in a non-hierarchical relationship with the other, be it an animal or an insect. Without hierarchy or domination, Park paints an alternative bestiary, which takes into account the great diversity of living forms.
Park's style might appear naive at first glance but the psychological, social and political aspects of her paintings heighten the stakes. She frees herself from authoritarian and dominant dogmas by considering affects and feelings as a means to gaining knowledge of the world. To do this, she disarms the weight of conventions, turns away from them to assert a different force and power. Then, by reappropriating a part of art history through the nude and the still life, she displaces these elements in order to deconstruct the mental shackles that prevent us from letting love have free rein: a force for action that transcends influence and control. Human experience is composed of these political and social transformations. Similarly to the artist Gertrude Abercrombie—queen of bohemian artists in the 1930s, under-recognised for her mysterious paintings filled with nocturnal, mercurial, magnetic and mystical energies—we find the love of 'painting simple things that are a little strange.' Behind these sentimental landscapes and emotional spaces is, ultimately, an unceasing way of painting other ways of existing
Text by Marianne Derrien. Courtesy Perrotin.