Anna Park seizes the moment right in between ecstasy and pure fuckery. This she explained to me, when visiting her studio at the New York Academy of Art during the summer. Behind her, a wall of charcoal works pulsated with characters in different stages of trying to maintain their balance, some elated and some alienated, but each conveying a universal feeling of coping. We have all been there, at some point, when the thrill instantaneously becomes the regret. That the 22-year artist was “discovered” by one of the world’s most successful contemporary artists, KAWS, as he visited the school’s open studio exhibition, seems serendipitous. Park wants to paint the world we live in right now. Transforming her method from a more nostalgic-based illustration practice to experimenting with charcoal, these works move with energy, inducing the guilty pleasure of observing debauchery as it plays out in front of you.
Evan Pricco: You are off to a residency in Leipzig, the land of Neo Rauch. What’s the plan once you get there? What’s the residency?
Anna Park: My school sends a couple of students every year to different residencies for the summertime, one of them being Leipzig in the art complex, Spinnerei. Four of us go for two months, and we get this space, along with other artists around us, in order to make our own work and get feedback. We have studio visits, go to galleries and things. It's pretty open-ended, really, to experience the culture. This is my first time doing an actual residency.
That’s a summer fun job! It must be exciting, just to know that you are going to a really famous place for painting to just... paint.
I mean, it's kind of fucking amazing. They announced the people who were going, and having never been to Germany, and being a big fan of Neo Rauch, I feel really lucky to go. I'm super excited. That's kind of why I didn't want to plan projects ahead. I really have no context to compare Germany to. I've been to Europe once, last year, and it was just like an overstimulation of things. If I'm going to plan it to a T and if I were to go there and make what I do here, I would be doing a disservice to myself. Might as well take advantage of being in a different environment.
I was trying to piece together a lineage of all the places you have lived: South Korea, New Zealand, California, Utah and now, New York. That’s a lot for a young age, and a lot of different cultures, even across the US. How does moving around fit into the work you are making now?
I wouldn't say any specific place is an indicator of a piece of work that I make. It's more about moving around as a kid and it being out of my control. And now, I think, finally, that’s kind of emerging through my drawings, if that makes sense. Just human experiences I've had throughout my life. But I think it's most relatable to my experiences in Utah just because those were my most formative years. I like people-watching, and I guess I've done a lot of that by just moving around so much.
There does seem to be a bit of an outside-observer feeling in these works: embedded but not participating. You’re watching as the night unfolds into that very, very hedonistic and uninhibited moment. Voyeuristic, but not sinister?
Voyeuristic is a good word for it. I think that's synonymous with what I feel about life. Always a spectator, but also in it at the same time. You're involved in some way if you are just being there, especially with the most recent couple of years, just having moved to New York. It was the place I've been craving to be in for a long time, almost like I was watching this movie in front of me. Is that corny? I don't know.
In NYC, especially in school, you're around people constantly. My most recent body of work is reflective of the fact that I was thrust into this place with so many people around where I'd been wanting to be for a long time. Utah was quite the opposite, so maybe I just needed to be in this kind of place to freely make that sort of work in response.
Can we talk about growing up in Utah?
It was such a culture shock for me. I've always done art, ever since I was really little. I always felt like I didn't quite fit, wherever I went. So maybe I just went into my cave and made work. But in Utah, it was interesting, I had a mentor in Bruce Robertson, he runs a visual art institute and teaches at the University of Utah, and found my work in what I guess you can describe as one of those elementary school art shows that’s in the summer in big shopping malls. He found my work there, and called my elementary school and asked for my mom's contact.
Wait, how old were you?
I was like maybe in fifth, fourth grade or something.
Um, how great was your work in fourth grade?
It wasn’t. I had just moved to Utah the year prior and wanted to attend art classes. So he asked my mom, “Would Anna want to come on weekends and take classes with us?" So, for eight years, after school and on the weekends, I would do figure drawing at the institute. I owe a lot to him about what I’ve learned. He instigated this, and seriously gave me a love of drawing and painting.
Well, in some ways it narrows down your path a little, in a good way...
I mean, it's a bigger risk. I honestly put all my eggs in one basket and said to myself, "This is just ride or die right now. I can't imagine doing anything else." It was kind of like a leap of faith. And there was a lot of support behind me, too.
Right now, the work that you're making is clearly striking a chord. When KAWS posted your work at the open studio day, a few of us on staff were like, “This. Is. Good.” When did this body of work really start to develop?
I guess it came out, like, maybe a couple of months ago, toward the end of last winter, when I almost was in this, what would you call it, an “artistic rut”?
We call it writer's block on my end.
Yeah, exactly, an artist's block. And I didn't want to draw at that moment. That was the scariest time in my practice, because I love drawing so much, but I was so sick and tired, and it just felt so systematic, like there was a formula and I was sticking to and that's all I was doing. I had to re-tool and try out different mediums and take a break from drawing to allow myself to miss it, then go back in with a fresh pair of eyes. The most recent body of work was like a hunger to change things up.
Your drawing work has this very nostalgic sort of feeling to it.
Very reminiscent of black-and-white photography, right? But it wasn’t really my own: it didn’t have as much of my own voice as it does now, I would say. And the shift in my work has to do with the medium, too. A lot of people might think charcoal is such a limited material, and I believed it, too. That is stubborn.
Are you nostalgic?
I think more so in my older works than now. Now it's more that I just want to present this moment, rather than looking back.
What are these moments?
It's just the moment right in between pure fuckery, debauchery and ecstasy. I guess the best comparison is like when you're really fucked up at a club and everything kind of slows down. That's when you kind of get into yourself. Does that make sense?
That moment doesn't last that long.
No, it's an instant, and it can change. The work is a snapshot of that. That’s what I most want to capture in the drawings.
It's all fun and games, and then all of a sudden we become inappropriate or unhinged.
It's almost like our inner demons; we all have that. I think when we're most vulnerable, we can allow ourselves to be kind of fucked up or allow the things that you would think in private or talk about with your closest friends come out in public. In these worlds that I create, people are allowed to be that way. And I like that.
How do you compose these images?
Lately, it's been really benign statements on Google. I love crowd and dance club scenes, groups of people, just so I have some sort of composition in mind. So I'll type, "people dancing." And it will just be this awful stock imagery of people dancing, or cheesy ones, too, or like a lot of memes that I've just collected over the year. I have an online archive and then, when I want, compositionally, a certain movement or one certain figure in a photo, I'll start collaging on the paper, basically, because I don't really use Photoshop or anything.
A lot of people ask me, "Oh are these like parties you've been to?" Or, "Do you go to a lot of these scenes?" And I say, "Not so much." I guess this is my way of saying, “This is my alter-ego, Anna, if she was out there getting fucked up all the time.” I’m a hermit for the most part.
People say it's harder to draw people that you really know, like family members or best friends, because you have this preconceived notion of them, and it's impossible to remove that from your head. So these are snapshots that I find online of just really drunk, fucked-up people. Am I exploiting? I hope not. It’s just a reflection of today's times.
Right, we’ve lived in a constant unease over the past few years, almost like we are living in a parallel universe to reality. The works in your studio had this feeling of a desperate need to just get as distracted as possible, to get completely lost from reality for just one night. Sometimes we feel guilty enjoying ourselves in these times, too?
Maybe it's my own escapism. I hope it is relatable to other people in a way where it becomes the space to almost get away from all of that for an instant.
You related that, in fifth grade, you wanted to be a Pixar animator. Now that you are on the precipice of graduating from school, how do you see that love of animation and illustration manifest itself in the rest of your career?
The first year I moved to New York, I saw a Ralph Steadman show, during the time where I was switching from illustration to fine arts. It was the first time I had seen his work in person, and thought, ”Oh, he's kind of merging the two. There doesn't have to be this defined line of illustration and fine art, or a cartoon." And I realized I had put myself in a box, so from that point on, my inspirations really just come from anywhere.
Anna Park will open a solo show, Honeymoon, at Ross + Kramer Gallery in East Hampton, New York.