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Soojung Park: Small Infinities, 2014, Peter Frank
Light, transparency, and near-invisibility have long preoccupied artists working in southern California. In this respect, Soojung Park maintains a tradition. Her work readily evinces the source of its aesthetic reasoning in the Light+Space art of Robert Irwin, DeWain Valentine, Helen Pashgian, Larry Bell, and other Los Angeles-area masters of the nearly-seen. But there are other traditions Park brings into her working method as well, traditions as old, and as universal, as ink and pigment.
Working on and with Plexiglas and other forms of cast acrylic, Park practices a kind of drawn un-painting, or painted un-drawing. She employs both drawing media and pigmenting materials, but not so that any normative sort of drawn or painterly imagery appears. Rather, she uses ink to etch into tender surfaces, scoring those surfaces, subtly but firmly, with multiple horizons. These horizontal delineations seem to coordinate with cloristic shifts embedded in the transparent or translucent plastic.
The effect can only be called one of placid vibrancy. Rather than disturb the calm self-containment of Park's translucent quadrangles, the striations made into their "skin" seem to settle them the more. They echo, after all, the upper and lower reaches of each vertical strip, broad rectangle, or square. They also harmonize, usually with uncanny delicacy, with the colors suspended beneath them, as if bringing evidence of those hues and shifts in hue momentarily to the surface.
The lines at once emphasize and question the objecthood of Park's plastic objects. By marking surfaces that would otherwise float before our eyes, nebulous and indistinct, the muffled incisions help denote where the atmosphere around the artwork ends and the artwork itself begins. The objects' exterior edges help do that as well, of course, but even they seem slightly clouded and burred, their precision gently compromised by the soft-seeming "deckle" left by Park's casting process. Working in counterbalance to this essentially sculptural definition of surface and edge are the suspended colors and the fluid thickness in which they swim, the thickness of the plastic itself, its potential endlessness amplified by the eye's inability to gauge depth under such circumstances.
This dynamic, demonstrated straightforwardly by Park's single-panel painting-objects, becomes part of a larger phenomenon when the works are built of more than single slabs. In the last several years, for instance, Park has formulated surfaces and described delineations thereupon by physically lying plastic plane upon plastic plane, the edge of one impinging upon the surface of the other so that the face of such a compound work is ridged or even marked by a stepwise procession. Here, the condition of the material―or, if you would, the material condition of the art object overall―underscored the ink scoring, formally aligning with its insistent horizontal coursing but at the same time disrupting its otherwise calming effect on our apprehension of the works' surfaces.
This interlaced pattern of harmonization and disturbation multiplies, understandably enough, when several discrete panels comprise a single artwork. This method of combining separately forged, separately inscribed panels has predominated in Park's most recent compositional strategies. Some of these formulations Park realizes as single objects, the individual panels adjoined to one another, the particular line and color formation of each giving way abruptly, usually in horizontal passage, to an entirely different formation. More often, Park installs the panels separately, small margins allowing the eye to adjust and jump between the panels.
One effect such multiplicity of components has is to make the viewer that much more aware of the cascade of color and line in each segment. Where the individual-panel pieces―especially those built of separate blocks―invite the eye to run up and down their rich and varied fields of graduation. In fact, when the blocks themselves assume a vertical format, we find ourselves viewing the entire work as a sequence of ladder-like progressions. The color variations go back and forth between dark and dense and light and near=toneless. This effect occurs as well when Park arranges individual squares into many-segmented grids; only here, the rhythms are more accentuated and, to a certain extent, more eccentric. When the components are horizontal, our eyes go back and forth across their accrued span, the implied movement weaving back and forth across the entire composite structure.
This rich variety of visual experience, which Park has achieved through a rather stringently maintained method (now going on the better part of two decades), bespeaks a meditative focus on the artist's part, a patience that trusts in the gradual evolution not only of her vision, but of her audience's. Park wants us to see, but she does not want us to see any particular thing. The particular thing already exists; she would rather we see what we think is before us, that we go where our eyes cannot help but lead us. Like the Light+Space artists who set the conditions of practice and perception she has adopted, Park trusts not in the eye's strengths, but in the evocative possibilities of its very weakness. She can make us see what isn't there, as well as, or perhaps even instead of, what is.
Soojung Park is not trying to fool the eye. She is trying to unleash it. She operates on the belief that the eye's willingness to believe more than it sees is a rich basis for artistic experience, and requires no craftiness, only craft. Park presents us with shallow objects that seem to contain great depth, washes of color that seem to have no bounds, flat surfaces that seem to bend, drawn lines that seem to lie on top of, behind, and inside their support all at once. These "magical" conditions attract us, however, not because they are magical, but because they provide us with so many possibilities. PArk's reductive style―indebted not just to the Light+Space artists but to transcendental minimalists such as Agnes Martin and Donald Judd―clears the way for things to seem at once as they are and as they are very much not, for objects to be very much in front of us and very much invisible to us, for materials and effects to be what they seem to be and something very much otherwise at the same time. However circumscribed, the possibilities in Park's work, as well as in the spaces it seems to describe, are infinite.
Artweek, September 2005, Annie Buckley
Soojung Park's plexiglass and ink color fields simultaneously float from the wall and fall back into space. It is this combination of fragility and weight that sets them apart from their predecessors in color field painting, from Mark Rothko to more recent and closer comparisons materially, such as Herbert Hamak. It is precisely the materiality in Park's work that allows it to float and vibrate rhythmically, but this same plasticity incites a sinking awareness of hitting ground on closer viewing. Tension between opposing forces―space and ground, large and finite, thick and thin―is integral to Park's work.
Each plexiglass panel is carefully scored, or etched, in both the front and the back, and then rubbed with a series of inks creating invisible layers of color that merge in both the organic movement of the ink across the surface and in the geometric etchings of the lines. There are essentially two interpretations of this idea in the exhibition, one being more traditionally minimalist, and the other more uniquely excessive. Four single-panel pieces that represent the simpler variety are sheets of color that seem to glow from the center as if they are lit from behind. In most, a beveled edge at the back frames the piece internally, and the etched lines are less apparent, rendering them almost invisible. Their fanciful titles, while insistently incongruent with the serious style of the work―Plum Quarts, Butter Yellow, Violet Amber―reflect a meditation on just one or two colors, In these pieces, the process itself is transcended by the translucent glow of the work. They are ephemeral in their simplicity.
In a sense, these single-panel works could be considered studies for the other pieces, which are groupings of smaller panels set together and have far more variety of color in the spread of ink and in the many horizontal lines running through them. Midnight Cake is a series of eight rectangular panels hung in a vertical line. The iridescent, almost fluorescent colors are more contemporary that the subdued purples, blues, and yellows of the single-panel work. There is an intriguing play with light and color at work here, making more apparent the flirtatious impulse that inspired the tiles. Shimmer Compact merges twelve smaller panels forming a grid, but the blunt squareness of this piece contradicts the fluidity of color, seemingly pulling the air out from the sense of play and space. The multitude of rich, fruity colors in both of these works invites images of sunsets and seashores, albeit in some altered universe, whose colors and materials denote an intriguing concoction of beachcomber consumerism and serious abstraction.
Park's works, the multi-panel pieces in particular, create a sort of maximalist minimalism, an exuberant and plush reflection based on a layered process. Standing back from the work, it appears to be airborne, an intriguing and calming vision. At close range, the materials' slightly uncomfortable grounding is derived, in part, from the dynamic lines. The intersections of color and graphic element (as well as of the panels themselves in some cases) eclipse the artist's own suggestion of a third perspective between the lines, and rather engenders new tensions between plasticity and abstraction and between minimalism and excess. These junctures, and the spaces that they create, are manifested in Park's incisions into the field of color and are what give the work energy and flow.
Artscene, June 2007, John O'Brien
Soojung Park's works are the result of a labor-intensive process. She creates additive artworks that are made up of acrylic sheets and links. First, her transparent sheets are cut to size and then they are sanded or abraded by sand blasting or scratching. She also etches them with precise horizontal lines and takes advantage of the material by working on both sides of the clear sheets. After preparing these surfaces, she then rubs them with various colored pigments and inks, working with the minute topographical variations on each surface to coax the colors so that they range from soft, almost transparent washes to solid, more saturated colors. Finally she arranges the panels individually or in groupings, titling them with evocative ambiguity. The results confound one's perceptual neutrality, making us work (happily) to understand where the light is coming from.
The normally indistinct acrylic sheets, enlivened by the micro-textural dispersion of the colors applied to them, become imbued with an almost tactile attraction, The particulate light patterns move from a thick saturation to a light floating sensation. In a work like Song Album, the horizontal bands run a gamut of color from a solid moss green/blue bar to a hazy yellow/brown band. The transition from each colored subsection to the next invites and beckons the viewer's participation. Like a flickering vertical zoetrope, the light on this color field horizon falls and rises and falls again. Thus one becomes infatuated with and engrossed in the details, complexity and subtlety of the works in Passera. The overall compositions of Park's colored light spaces are frankly and sensuously beautiful; the effects achieved are exquisitely calibrated.
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