Gahee Park is a painter and printmaker depicting intimate domestic scenes through the voyeuristic lens of the characters’ pets and plants. She works primarily in oil paint, etching, and stone lithography. Her current studio is at Hunter College until mid-January when she completes her MFA in painting. A concurrent thesis exhibition is held downstairs in the Hunter main galleries at (205 Hudson Street) featuring four large paintings and a series of smaller drawings.
Picnic: Is there an overarching theme to your exhibition or is this a sort of retrospective of works created your final year at Hunter?
Gahee: I always have some theme, but it’s not really direct, it’s always about experience. I’ve been working a lot with domestic places, a private room as opposed to the public sphere. I was interested in how the feminine appeared. When you get to know somebody you can see where the person is from, how their personality appears. I was interested in that. I like to put some weird person in this literal space and make some fiction and narration behind it. It’s about a domesticated perspective from the point of view of an animal or plant.
Yeah, I see that as a constant in your work, there is always this animal, or this voyeur, looking in the background; or you’re surrounded by plants, and they feel like another character in it too. Have you always explored that voyeuristic perspective?
Yeah, always. I grew up in Korea in a very Catholic family. As a woman, I had strong roles that I had to follow, my mom taught me cooking and cleaning. When you have a domesticated object or something like a dog or a cat that you love so much – I had so much feeling or empathy for them. I feel like I’m portraying something about me, I don’t think these figures are me any more than the animals or the plants are.
Growing up in a very catholic family, do you have any reserve about showing your mom your work, has she seen it?
No, she hasn’t seen these, that’s why I started to make a lot of flower paintings.
So you only show her those ones?
Yeah, it’s funny, I love my family a lot, but I’m still very afraid of showing who I really am, because they have so much expectation. It worked here, because they are proud of me for being in a nice school and I make money to survive. But they don’t really know what I’m doing. I try to make a lot of flowers, I’ll send them to Korea and they really love them. I have some uncanny work that they can see that they don’t really understand. They’re not artistically educated, so they don’t really see the symbolism. I’ve been talking to my parents via the plants.
When did you start painting?
I was always painting, very young. My mom sent me to this lady’s house when I was very young and she had a beautiful garden and a few kids to teach. I loved it so much, I don’t remember what I really drew, but I loved the feeling of being there. I was drawing a lot, naturally I became a painter.
Is keeping a sketchbook important to your practice?
I do draw a lot, drawing is important, because you forget what you thought. There is a lot of immediate thoughts that you might be interested in but then you forget them.
What is your process for starting a new piece? Do you usually work from a sketch you’ve done?
Yeah, I do a lot of drawings, and then I make a print out of it, or I make a print and a painting at the same time. I always make different versions.
Do you usually work on a couple different paintings at once?
Yeah, I like to because I have to wait for one to dry.
Yeah some works are really thick, is texture important to representing the content?
Yeah, it used to be. I’m trying not to do it anymore I find it a bit cheesy.
Oh really, why?
I like to encourage myself to do something different, and that is kind of easy for me. I still do thick stuff, but I’m trying to be more flat, because it’s harder, but fun.
Your human figures are sometimes comically exaggerated or disproportioned. Are working from references or drawing from you imagination?
It’s all imagination, when I was in high school I was very into animation, I thought I was going to be an animator so I practiced a lot of bodies, and I just don’t need to see a body anymore after doing that. I think it really reflects what I see, whenever I paint males, they look like my boyfriend. Or when I really like some face, it reflects it. The body images are kind of me.
Do you like working in the community of school and having other artists working next door? Do you get to share your work with each other?
I used to share a lot, but there are so many people coming and going every semester. I used to have a lot of friends, but they all graduated.
And you went to undergrad at Tyler School of Art, did you study painting or printmaking there?
It was a painting program, I had really good teachers, they still talk to me in my head. I love this teacher Dona Nelson.
Did you move to the states to go to college or before then?
I was in college in Korea, I didn’t like the school, it was kind of bureaucratic, I’m not good at kissing ass. I still have some friends I made there though.
Were you painting nudes there?
I was painting a lot of dogs actually. I love animals.
Did you grow up with pets?
I had one Maltese, I have a cat now. He was a catty dog. I had him middle school through college. I left him to come here and my parents took care of him. That painting is him.
Is the cat in the painting downstairs your cat?
Yeah that’s my cat, I found him in a shelter, no one took him, he was such an asshole, and I didn’t know about it until I brought him home. No one took him for 3 or 4 months, he’s really cute but he bites. I had to take him.
I like thinking about this animal voyeur, watching people interact, mostly sexual interactions. It’s funny.
They like to watch, everyone told me they like to watch. But I don’t know what they think is going on. A lot of people tell me about their cat, whenever they see this piece, they say when they’re doing something the cat wouldn’t move off the bed, so it’s funny. Someone told me they were making out, and her dog started humping the guy she was making out with. It’s just so funny.
I am always happy to see nudity and sexuality portrayed by women, I feel like it’s a historically male subject, and always feels objective.
I get really excited to see Carol Dunham’s giant female vaginas, but also I get really mad. It’s pleasing, but it is like a still-life for them.
You mention Carol Dunham, is he an artist you really look to? What other artists do you admire?
I really love his painting, I don’t like the contents. I love how he elaborates the same thing but it’s always fresh, that’s really hard to do. I really love a lot female artists – I love Amy Sillman, I love Nicole Eisenman, she’s my favorite artist actually. She’s a very strong feminist and a really amazing painter and drawer.
Yeah her style is across the board.
Yep. I got really into printmaking after seeing her show at ICA in Philadelphia.
What medium of printmaking do you use?
I was doing a lot of stone litho and etching, I really like stone litho.
The titles of your pieces downstairs are very subtly humorous, do you think they’re important to the viewing of the work?
Yeah, they’re silly, you see what it is, you hear what it is. It kind of helps, I want people to read different layers of my work, I don’t want to push people to read it, so it’s good to be simple and direct.
I saw that you had a solo-show at Marginal Utility in Philadelphia this past summer.
I’ve had a show there twice, actually three times. I met them, they’ve been watching me every year, they come to everything since I was in undergrad. I went to school in Philadelphia and they’ve been supporting me a lot. I really liked the artists there when I was a student, so I interned for them once a week. It is a really nice non-profit gallery, they are very open to artists to work together. They saw my work and then gave me two solo-shows.
I saw that the press release was a poem, did you write that?
You write poetry too?
That was the only one I wrote. I thought it was related but different, I thought of working with text. I am not good at text.
The newer works downstairs, feel like more of a contemporary setting, while these feel like a reversion to “early man”.
I was working on a lot of weird dystopian settings, because it’s funny. That’s why I wrote that poem, it’s dystopian, it’s all about survival, you have to give up your morals, eating and having birth is more important than money, making money, working. I thought it was a funny idea to have only strong women survive.
Do you have any upcoming shows or projects coming up?
The show downstairs is up until January 10th, that’s it. I’m excited to work more, this show has really challenged me and I tried to do something that I found interesting, more aggressively and intentionally, even if it starts with an accident sometimes, an accidental composition or color.
Check out Gahee’s work in her thesis exhibition at Hunger College, now through January 10th in the main floor galleries at 205 Hudson Street (entrance on Canal Street), past works and exhibitions can be found on her website www.GaheePark.com.