Anna Park, first marriage, 2021. © Anna Park. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.
Portrait of Anna Park by Luis Corzo. Courtesy of Anna Park.
“Sorry, I feel bad that I don’t have a lot of work here,” Anna Park said, apologetically before welcoming me to her spacious Bushwick studio on a sunny September afternoon. Inside, dozens upon dozens of panels – at least five feet tall – leaned against every available wall, many of them stacked lightly at random. All bear the traces of the artist’s signature charcoal marking. The panels I could see all looked like the artist’s finished works. A vast three-panel depiction of a game show scene could have been the centerpiece of an exhibit.
“It’s all the works that were never edited for exhibitions, or some unfinished pieces that I thought weren’t ready,” the 25-year-old artist said, explaining that she realizes about twice more works than she needs for an exhibition. These works had not been selected for his fall 2021 solo exhibition “Hello, Stranger” at Blum & Poe in Tokyo. “I love having them around the studio to inform my future work,” she added.
Anna Park, Sip of that KoolAid, 2019. © Anna Park. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.
Park is known for her monumental charcoal drawings that capture a world in motion. In its frenetic swirls and sharp angles, friends stumble across dance floors, performers perform to faceless crowds, and strangers brawl in bars. The frenetic energy of New York has strongly influenced the current style of the Daegu-born, Salt Lake City-raised artist. She also finds inspiration online and in the media she consumes at any given time, whether it’s a tennis match or reality TV competitions. The past three years, and 2021 in particular, have seen Park’s meteoric rise in the art world, the strength of which rivals the vitality of his drawings.
Park just received her MFA from the New York Academy of Art (NYAA) in 2020, although she entered the program without a BFA. Previously, she studied painting at the Pratt Institute, but dropped out after two years. “I wanted to be a painter because a ‘real’ artist paints,” Park said, nodding to the hierarchy between drawing and painting. She got into NYAA because of her perseverance. “I think it’s just a matter of being pretty boring,” she laughs. “I almost begged them, ‘Please let me come to this program!'” Park entered the graduate program as a drawing major, feeling there were uncharted areas. where she wanted to take the medium.
Anna Park, You understood?, 2019. © Anna Park. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.
At an NYAA open studio exhibition in 2019, Park’s drawings caught the eye of artist Brian Donnelly, better known as KAWS. He quickly bought a piece and posted it on Instagram, sharing the work with his crowd of followers. Since then, Park has since had consecutive years of firsts.
In the fall of 2019, she opened her first-ever solo exhibition, “Honeymoon,” at Ross + Kramer’s East Hampton location. In 2020, Park held his first solo exhibition in Europe, titled “On Tilt”. at T293 in Rome. And 2021 has seen his works make their Asian debut and enter the permanent collections of four museums: the High Museum of Art in Atlanta; the Miami Institute of Contemporary Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Perez Museum of Art in Miami. She also held a solo exhibition in New York at the Half Gallery in the spring. To top it all off, in December it was announced that Park had secured gallery representation with Blum & Poe.
Anna Park, Intermission, 2021. © Anna Park. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.
Looking ahead to 2022, the artist is already confirmed to exhibit Intermission (2021) in a group show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through the design’s owner, singer-songwriter Billie Eilish (who posted a selfie on Instagram with the artwork last November). Park will also have her first solo show in Los Angeles at Blum & Poe.
Back at the young artist’s Brooklyn studio, it’s no surprise that this fervor – seen in her work and the enthusiastic reception it receives – seeped into the space of Park’s work. The walls are scrawled with words like “nice to be with you” and “do it your own way,” fleeting phrases Park clings to while listening to podcasts and interviews. She writes them down quickly to save them before returning to her drawings. “They inform the context for future work or build the narrative of those I’m currently working on,” Park said. “It’s a way of having my train of thought as a visual reminder while I’m working in the studio.”
Anna Park, It must go on , 2021. © Anna Park. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo
A phrase written on his wall, “it must go on,” is also the title of an artwork in “Hello, Stranger.” In the play, a dark-haired woman wearing large hoop earrings is led through a crowd. Alien hands from unknown sources reach out and wrap around her, but the woman remains indifferent; it must reach its destination; the show must continue.
The theme of success, and the possibility of it all disappearing, is particularly prevalent in Park’s recent work. It must go on (2021) implies in its title that something has gone wrong. Meanwhile, Mind over matter (2021) illustrates failure more explicitly: a cowboy knocked down from his faithful steed. In previous works, the defeat remained ambiguous or occurred beyond the picture plane.
Anna Park, Mind over matter, 2021. © Anna Park. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.
In his 2019 series of close-up portraits of tennis players, Park highlighted the exertion exerted by athletes, seen through their distorted facial expressions. She, however, never revealed if they managed to throw the tennis ball at their opponent. In the same way, Now you see me (2021) – which debuted in “Pluck Me Tender” at Half Gallery – suggests through its title that the hypervisibility and media attention experienced by the cartoon’s protagonist is fleeting.
While Park relied on her training in figurative art for “Hello, Stranger,” she often experiments in the realm of abstraction. “I constantly ask myself, ‘Can I convey a message or an energy without using the figure as a vehicle for my emotions?’ “, she said. While preparing for “Pluck Me Tender,” Park tried to figure out which camp she should belong to – abstraction or figuration.
Anna Park, Does it bring you joy?, 2021. © Anna Park. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.
“Abstract works are actually a lot harder for me personally. They take a lot longer, and I haven’t done enough to know when to stop or when to go further,” the artist said. With portraits, I’m used to rendering it to a certain point, composing it in a certain way.” Referring to one of her studio’s abstract drawings, she added, “I don’t never put it in a show, because I was really going there trusting the brands instead of having a concept. It took me a while to be okay with that, to allow me to move my hand freely.
As 2022 approaches, Park plans to continue pushing her practice in new directions. “I don’t think I can make charcoal forever,” she said. “I will love him forever and love to draw, but I think it’s time to move on.” In the corner of her studio, Park has a small desk covered in small canvases and loose sheets of paper where she had begun experimenting with watercolor and ink.
Anna Park, Now you see me 2021, © Anna Park. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.
“It’s just a matter of not wanting to be pigeonholed,” she reflected. “We’ll see; it’s just scary, and there are all these other pressures as well. Although she doesn’t elaborate on that, Park may be referring to the increased pressure that comes with the new attention that she sparked in the art world and beyond. Earlier in our conversation, she shared, “When you’re working, the notion of the viewer is constantly present, whether it’s in the studio or in my head.”
Reflecting on her aspirations during her graduate studies, Park recalls, “The dream was always to go further because I like the idea of being consumed by the drawings. They are so busy and chaotic that you are almost immersed in this world that I have created. Now that she’s realized that and more, Park is looking to explore new ground, continually growing, never complacent.
Harley Wong is Artsy’s Production Editor.