GaHee Park's still life paintings and drawings portray intimate scenes from everyday life. Subjects, either solo or in embrace, are depicted in private and often erotic settings accompanied by animals and plants, all engaged with dismantling the separation between public and private space.
Born in Seoul in 1985, Park was raised in a strict conservative Catholic family. As she explains, sex and sexuality were no-go areas for discussion or exploration growing up, both in her household and wider society. Her arrival to the U.S. in the late 2000s for graduate studies at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia led to new-found liberation and room for interrogating, rethinking, and disrupting preconceived attitudes towards the female body, gender roles, pleasure, and eroticism in her painting-led practice.
Standing in front of Park's beguiling work, We Used to Be Fish (2019), the viewer encounters a nude heterosexual couple, the woman dressed in thigh-high boots with black manicured nails, having a relaxing evening in a what looks like a giant aquarium. Sipping on cocktails and smoking, a variety of sea creatures share the space with them, while a cat watches curiously from the outside. The flatness of forms and colourful explosion of flora and fauna collapse the barriers between interior and exterior to present a space of peaceful co-existence, where there are no hierarchical separations between beings.
Conversely, as suggested in its title, Invitation (2020) encourages the viewer to look closer within, as a raven-haired female protagonist draws back a purple curtain to reveal her companion's nude torso reflected in the mirror within the frame. Sex—or at least an implication of it—features prominently in Park's paintings and drawings that are all framed within surreal spaces that blur the boundaries between public and private space to set up a voyeuristic perspective.
Betrayal (Sweet Blood), Park's expansive solo exhibition of new paintings and drawings will take over two floors of Perrotin New York between 12 September and 17 October 2020. This new body of work sees Park introduce herself as the subject for the first time to further explore the body's absence and presence through frames within frames, mirrors, multiple gazes, and shadows. Additionally, her painting, Still life with Living Things (2020) is one of 50 artworks in Art on the Grid (29 June–20 September 2020), a group exhibition commissioned by Public Art Fund on the city's public transportation and communication infrastructure including 500 bus shelters' advertising panels and on more than 1,700 WiFi kiosks' digital screens across five New York City boroughs.
Park speaks to Ocula about the playful and provocative approach to sex in her paintings, which deal with intimacy, eroticism, and femininity.