Curated by Soojung Hyun at ARTEGO
By Jonathan Goodman, September 5th, 2023
Gahae Park is a Korean-born, New-York based paper artist who, for this show, is displaying a wide spectrum of works whose flat backgrounds are embellished often by diminutive, shaped cuts–tiny paper rectangles lifted partly off the paper or equally diminutive spheres.
Image: Gahae Park, Music drawing- etude 23-1, 2023; cut paper, gouache; 26 x 20 inches
(images courtesy of the artist)
Parks works are arranged in patterns that could be seen as coming close to the overall design of textiles–with the exception that the very small balls and flat cuts extend, to some minor extent, the notion of a flat plate into something that looks like a very low relief. Why Park made this decision we don’t know, but it clearly indicates that the tiny ephemera adds visual complexity and striking patterns to designs that are truly compelling. It would not be saying too much that more than a few of the individual works move in the direction of design, or at least bring about a bridge between design and traditional fine art. Actually, part of good fine art–in Park’s case, her work comes closest to painting, in that the emphasis is on flatness of surface. As a result we have a highlight: the artist’s ability to invest the composition with patterns that emphasize the hand and the imagination of the artist herself.
The mostly geometric, often light-colored works rely on evenly divided square areas that cover the background in different ways; Park’s cuts are precise, adding linear edges to small, extraneous shapes repeated in rows. The changes are various from one composition to the next, so that different textures regularly occur, and also include drawings and, to some small extent, different colors. Park concentrates on the surface of her art, and while her choices do not exactly transform a purely flat plane to a low relief, the suggestion of depth nonetheless turns something close to painting into something palpable. And this volume, however slight, makes it evident that no art object escapes its existence as a piece defined only by set dimensions–its length and width, and the artist’s choice to establish, most often, regular dimensions. Park’s decision to add small volumetric forms adds to the complexity of her surfaces, asserting the suggestion of depth-no matter how slight our recognition of that depth may be it is hard to read Park’s art only in light of a narrow, tightly preordained path. Other influences make their mark. Some of her most beautiful works are influenced by music–two very good pieces, expressed in line and color, look very much like the interior of a piano. The lines form a downward shape, as if the piano’s overall triangular form had been reversed. Above the lower shape in both works, closest to pyramids in recognizable shape, a straight line of small white objects frames the top of this musically oriented form. The horizontal bar–embellished above and below by small, multicolored squares, structures the composition’s overall gestalt.
The overall size of the works titled “Music Drawing - Etude 23-1” (2023) and “Music Drawing-Etude in Blue” (2022) look toward both the overall physical existence of the piano, a real musical instrument and the abstract condition of music, its capacity to assert rhythms and melodies that move us–in ways that evade notions of physical existence. Perhaps Park is at her best when she straddles the world of actual and the world of the ephemeral, not exactly mixing so much as matching effects despite the complexity of working two approaches to visual studies simultaneously.
Park’s willingness to merge craft with the abstraction of the craft we come across in a composition called “Light Drawing–Blue” (2023), a work white, blue, and black squares, randomly set against each other, is a trove of random events. Yet the overall effect of this piece is a relational measure: Park’s rational approach is clearly evident. There is indeed a fixed rationality to almost all Park’s work, so that the forms tend to play out in a highly formal manner. But the rationalism informing the art is offset by the overall design, which maintains a tight continuity from one element to the next. At the same time, the pattern of the piece also feels free enough to confirm its energies in a more open manner than we would expect from such closely placed design part.
The artist made a particularly nice work, called “Light Drawing–Rhythm in Color” (2023) consisting of horizontal rows of blue circles. Each of the circles is surrounded by blue lines; the outline for the lowest level of circles is black The inside of the hollow blue circles, ranging from flat black to small abstract forms, creates a complex non-figurational idiom, whose beauty stems from the patterned elegance of the individual circles constituting the composition. This work, like the others, makes it clear that all forms, whether figurative or abstract, can be worked in such a way that an inherent beauty arises. This insight is hardly supportable in an analytic sense; instead, it is given meaning, certainly real enough, as an example of the innate strength of the parts we associate with art: color, volume, the dimensions of length, width, height. And of course, in sculpture, volume has always been the genre’s primary attribute.
Gahae Park, Light drawing- rhythm in color, 2023: cut paper, gouache: 24 x 30 inches
Park is of Korean background, but she has been living in New York City for decades. Her generation and her training belong to a sophisticated modernism. The most striking aspect of her work is the diminutive size of its elements and even more important, the way she places these elements for the best visual effect. Her style cannot be discarded as arbitrary, but neither does it borrow in any obvious way from her own culture. Instead, its precision does not directly connect with Asian art.
Now that artists have been experimenting with abstract structures, some of this discussion may seem a bit academic. But Park’s highly skilled working of an idiom that we can neither say is entirely advanced nor given to recognizable things gives her considerable freedom. Shifting from one outlook to the next gives the work a forceful variety, resulting in a broad understanding of pattern in art. In the long run, it seems that the best way to approach Park’s achievement is to see it as occupying the cusp between a flat surface and a mildly textural treatment of the exterior–as if its flatness could be challenged by the roughness of clean design. In a particularly successful work, the artist has created small squares, made up of an array of different patterns that are set next to each other in a random manner. Indeed some of the squares are empty, further accentuating the different exteriors that compose the totality of the paper background. One may speculate on why Park works the way she does, but it doesn’t really matter: Art is alway arbitrary, composed of private decisions, and therefore always slightly obscure in regard to motivation. The artist’s style seems to best serve the domain of measurement and restraint. But even within that realm, which some might find too constraining, the patterns are presented with elegance and grace.
But this is not to say Park’s outlook is decorative. There's too much intelligence and sharpness of design. If a design is reduced to a minimal presentation, then the intellect starts to take over. The pattern becomes a demonstration of thought choices, often making the work elegant in the extreme. Park is an elegant artist, whose formal intelligence matches her wish to make sense of the world. We may not be able to achieve the latter, but we can try to make sense of things as best we can. Park’s rational underpinnings clearly argue for a world devoted to clarity and mature consideration–qualities most of us hope for in life. It can only be hoped that her skill, a major attribute of her art, will lead her–and us–to a site of genuine benevolence.
Gahae Park, Light drawing- blue, 2023; cut paper, gouache; 30 x 40 inches