EK Interview: Keun Young Park

Keun Young Park‘s collages are haunting.  The feel like pictures taken from the afterlife and faxed via CasperGram to the present.  The negative space creates a quite subtext that is both eerie and soothing.  Check out her interview:

What part of Seoul are you from?  What were your parents like?  How do you feel they nurtured or contributed to your development as an artist?  What of them do you see in yourself?

For almost 20 years before I came to the United States I lived at Mock-Dong in Seoul where there is a huge apartment area.

My parents are the people whom I most respect. They have always been sincerely thankful for everything. They trust their three daughters, including me and that gives us confidence and the ability to take on responsibility. My parents are very supportive and want their daughters to develop their talents and pursue more valuable things than money or financial benefits. I always thank them for that. My mother was a piano teacher and my older sister is a violinist. My father also loves the arts. I believe that their support and attitude influenced me to be an artist.

art blog - Keun Young Park - Empty Kingdom

What is your impression of Jersey City, New Jersey?  How did you end up there?

I have lived just one and half years in Jersey City. Before I moved here I lived in Brooklyn for 5 years. I loved living in Brooklyn. After my daughter was born I worked in my walk-in closet in my bedroom to save time and money. But 2 years ago we found a great work / live loft space for artists in Jersey City. I love my building because there are many artists living here and the building has an open studio every year to meet other neighbors who love the arts.


How has the transition from South Korea to America been?  What cultural differences did you notice immediately upon arriving in the US, what similarities have you noticed since then?

When I came to New York the first time, I figured out that many people here really love and enjoy the arts and respect artists. I felt that people are open to new cultures and different values in life. These are the biggest differences I felt and the reason that I want to work here. I am not sure if I can know about all of America only through the experience of living in New York City because I think that New York is a special and unique place that mixes various cultures easily and is filled with huge energy from tons of dreamers from everywhere in the world.

For the transition, even though I had difficulties with the language barrier and cultural differences, I got used to the city life easily because I am from Seoul which is also quite big city. For the first two years, I really enjoyed the new circumstances and they inspired me to make new forms of art. But as time passed I had a harder time because I missed my family in Korea and even now sometimes I feel that I am marginal and my life couldn’t get stable here.  Actually, even though it’s been 7 years since I came to USA I am still in transition. But I try to enjoy my life here.

art blog - Keun Young Park - Empty Kingdom


Take us through your process, do you take the photo and then tear it and reconstruct it?  Are your pieces an assembly of many other smaller photos?  How long does the average piece take you to complete?

The process is quiet simple. First I take a picture of a body or face. I change the colors or color saturation of them in photo shop and print them out on paper. Then I tear and paste each piece one by one. Tearing and pasting happen at the same time. For large size pieces I make a whole figure with many print outs.

Usually I make several pieces at the same time so it is hard to say how long each piece takes to finish. Some people think that it must take a very long time for the process of tearing and pasting so many small pieces but actually I spend more time struggling to make the outlines of the subject that look unfinished. To catch the moment of where and when I can finish I often gaze at the work for a quite awhile, adding just small numbers of pieces. This process sometimes takes a couple of months to complete.

In your ‘Dream’ series, your figures lack heads, one even has no shoulders, or rather the heads seem to be exploding outward.  In many of them these explosions are adorned with birds, among other animals, what do you think about the world of nature, why are birds in particular associated with such freedom?  And do you think the world of dreams should be considered a world of freedom?  Are we not subject to the same impulses that govern the rest of our actions, unless we happen to be lucid dreaming?

The concept of my work was developed from ideas about life and death. Birds symbolize a spirit or existence beyond death. Dreams can mean the world after death and they can also be about our life in the actual everyday world but dreams are not literal.

When I look up at the sky and see birds flying I feel that I belong to nature and that our life is just a moment in a huge cycle of nature. I get comfort from that and I am inspired by it also. I am not sure if the explosion images of birds mean freedom or just the importance of the world of nature but when I am reminded of nature’s cycle of life and death I feel freedom from daily life.

art blog - Keun Young Park - Empty Kingdom


Do you remember your dreams often?  Do you ever have lucid dreams?  Do you have a particularly spectacular dream you can recount to us?

I dream a lot and in many cases I can remember certain parts of them.

In one of my recent dreams a huge tsunami came and I was scared but I was safe because I climbed up a tall building. It is silly because I dreamed this just one day before my show opened. I don’t want to believe it but I seem to still be nervous before a show.


You use vibrant, loud colors that form a stark contrast to the white background and the white cracks that run throughout your pieces, how do you decide what color to use?  What is the purpose for choosing such colors?  What meaning do you think color, or the use of a single, strong color, can convey that simple black and white cannot?

I use a solid color to make a contrast between the image and the white background. I always try to find the color and saturation that inspires me and in so doing best brings out the textures in each image. I spend a lot of time doing many experiments to choose just the right color but in the end I rely on my intuition. I tend to use lighter colors for float images so they do not feel and look too heavy. I use stronger colors for faces and dream series pieces to show the cracks and textures more strongly.

art blog - Keun Young Park - Empty Kingdom


What do you think is missing in photographs?  They capture so much, the truth one could argue, at least before after effects are applied and the candid ones, they are a snap shot of reality.  But there are many many levels of complexity beyond sight, how have you tried to address this in your work?  In deconstructing and reconstructing photographs, images and through choosing a part of it to focus on?

My husband is a photographer and I started this work because I am inspired by his work.  I know about complexity and attraction in photography – we can see the photographer’s insights and unique points of view about social, political or universal issues through the actual photographs even though they can look like simple snap shots. However, for my work I don’t use that characteristic of the photograph’s ability to transcend the photographic image. I take pictures for my own reasons – with the intention of studying poses and facial expressions for my focus on the process of deconstructing and reconstructing the human image.

I majored in sculpture so I think that I approach my work with the attitude of a sculptor using photographic images as my materials rather than more traditional sculpture materials and certainly I use the photograph very differently from a more traditional photographer.


What do you do when you’re feeling stuck?  What can you rely on for inspiration, whether music, exercise, chemicals or otherwise?  And what is special about the state that you’re propelled into that brings inspiration or novel thought?

At least once every couple of months I feel stuck. I know it is truly necessary for an artist to be always developing their creativity but it can be really hard at certain times. At those moments I go to museums or book stores. I really enjoy seeing the ancient arts of Egypt and Asia. Those ancient arts remind me of the fundamental ideas about the arts and humanity in this universe. Also I truly rely on music. I love classical music and tango music – especially Bach and most of Piazzolla tango music.  These kinds of music always humble me and at the same time inspire me.

art blog - Keun Young Park - Empty Kingdom


Can you tell us some other artists that you’re currently following?  Who would you want to collaborate with if you had a chance?

I have several artists who I admire.  Giacometti, Gerhard Richter, Marlen Dumas, George Seurat and Kiki Smith. If I had a chance I really want to collaborate with Kiki Smith.


How do you think people perceive your art?  How would you want them to?

I think that many people are interested in the new technique in my work.  I am quite proud of the uniqueness of the technique but I want people to understand my concepts so that they can get some comfort from my work.

art blog - Keun Young Park - Empty Kingdom


What is the best cut of meat or style of meat?

I like filet mignon, medium well.

art blog - Keun Young Park - Empty Kingdom