Seoul artist Grim Park combines the format of traditional Korean Buddhist painting with modern social and queer sensibilities. Park was shortlisted for the 22nd SONGEUN Art Award in 2022.Read More
Park was born in Seoul, Korea, in 1987 and completed a BFA, majoring in Buddhist painting, at Dongguk University, Gyeongju, in 2016. He went on to create a number of taenghwa (Buddhist altarpieces) for Buddhist temples. During his studies he became aware that the conservative nature of the medium and its limitations meant that in its original form he could not express his true self and his gender identity.
Choosing to be open about his queer identity in his work, his early practice focused on stars of the gay community on social media and dating apps, depicted through traditional Korean painting.
Themes of self-reflection, self-transformation, reincarnation and inward and outward love, permeate through Grim Park's Goryeo period Buddhist-style paintings on silk and canvas. Queer themes are directly addressed within each work.
From 2015, Park began depicting queer men he viewed as attractive on social media and dating sites, using Buddhist silk-painting techniques traditionally employed to depict kings and great thinkers.
The figures in works such as Taste of Bodhisattva (2015), I Slay (2016) and The Thick (2018) are painted naturalistically, with elegant lines, a muted palette and detailed backgrounds that often feature patterns or plant life to make a closed, intimate composition. The images put their attractiveness on a pedestal, centre stage. As Park explained to Korea JoongAng Daily 'appearances tend to be taken seriously' in the Korean gay community.
Initially Park developed a self-hatred fuelled by feelings of being unattractive by the standards of the gay community, which he overcame gradually by normalising conversations with the subjects he painted. The 'Shimhodo' series (2018) is a result of this journey of self-reflection and transformation.
Shimhodo translates to 'the painting of searching for a tiger', and derives from the Buddhist genre of Shimudo, or 'searching for an ox' paintings—an allegory of searching inwardly for one's true nature. Shimhodo – Chosen (2018) playfully teases the theme and narrative of the series; a ferocious but adorable-looking tiger, evocative of Joseon period imagery (1392–1910), is coddled; held between two androgynous Bodhisattva characters.
The tiger stands in for the ox as the artist's reincarnated persona uncovered on his own introspective journey of transformation. In Shimhodo – Amrita (2021), the tiger devours the heart of the artist's slain old self. The series visually references the Goryeo period style (918 to 1392), with elegant lines, fine details and a mystic luminosity achieved by painting both sides of the silk.
The metaphor of the Tiger for the artist's persona is carried through later series such as 'Zero-Cogitation-Samadhi Continuum', 'The Tiger of Perfect Wisdom' and 'X-Tail/Tale' (all 2022). Each deals with themes of self-awareness and love.
In 2022 Grim Park began making a series of works, depicting various make-up and beauty items in the same manner as holy relics. Each of the items—lipstick, cushion compacts, brushes and nail polish—presents the tools for personal transformation in the eyes of the artist.
Grim Park has received a number of awards for his art. In 2016, he was awarded the Special Selection from the Sorabol Art Award. In 2018 Park was Absolut Vodka Artist Awards Winner of Korea.
In 2022 he was included in a shortlist of 20 for the SONGEUN Art and Cultural Foundation's SONGEUN Art Award.
In 2023, Grim Park was announced as one of 13 artists chosen for the Korean Artists Abroad programme supported by Korea Arts Management Service.
Grim Park has been the subject of both solo and group exhibitions.
Solo exhibitions include: Becoming a Tiger, Studio Concrete, Seoul (2022); CHAM; The Masquerade, Uartspace, Seoul (2021); Hwarangdo: a crowd of beautiful men, Bulil Museum, Seoul (2018).
Group exhibitions include: Redrawn World: Break and Continuity of Korean Painting, Ilmin Museum of Art, Seoul (2022); Scent of the Buddha, Dongduk Art Gallery, Seoul; Flags, Doosan Art Centre, Seoul (2019); By Light, By Wind, Bulil Museum, Seoul (2018).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2023