L.A. artist John Park: Finding strength in limitations

October 31, 2014
John Park crouching near a series of his own murals located in Los Angeles.

John Park crouching near a series of his own murals located at the Cosmo Lofts Hollywood in Los Angeles.

By Brian Han

Los Angeles painter John Park sees strength in limitations in an age where technological advancements serve as tools providing endless artistic possibilities. What an artist can do with just pencils and an eraser is still seen as a valid and comprehensive measure of an individual’s foundational skills in the digital age.

“The work that comes from people who use these [computer] programs properly is amazing, but just like anything else, I believe there is a balance,” says Park. “With seemingly unlimited options, one can instantly fix any aspect of a project, which introduces a concept called the ‘paradox of choice.’”

Park stands next to a piece that is part of his latest series of paintings titled "Gorilla Warfare"

Park stands next to a piece titled “Reality Check” that is part of his latest series of paintings – “Gorilla Warfare”

The paradox of choice? The theory, first brought into mainstream consciousness by psychologist Dr. Barry Schwartz in 2004 through his book, posits that when an individual is presented with too many options, a confident decision becomes more difficult to make and therefore negatively affects the happiness and increases the anxiety of the decision maker.

But that was limited to the consumer’s perspective at the time, and Park is looking through the entirely different lens of a content producer — in this case, the artist.

“Having too many artistic options is a modern phenomenon that affects film, painting, music, you name it,” Park said. “There’s something about limitations that awakens an artist’s true voice.”

Not only does he talk the talk, but he rarely, if ever, uses a computer to aid his creative process.

“I know how to use Photoshop, but I haven’t found a real use for it in the past 15 years,” Park said.

There are a couple ways to look at Park’s unorthodox attitude when it comes to adapting to a digitally-dominated artistic commercial landscape.

Either the philosophy he practices has an innate timeless quality or he’s just a stubborn artist who refuses to get along with the times. As with most things, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Park with his untitled mural outside of Gabba Gallery in Los Angeles' Koreatown

Park with his untitled mural outside of Gabba Gallery in Los Angeles’ Koreatown

During his tenure at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Park’s interest in the subject was sparked by the late Dr. George E. Erikson of Brown University.

“Dr. Erikson came out of retirement to teach artistic anatomy at RISD for a few years,” Park said. “I ended up taking all the courses he offered then worked as a teacher’s assistant once I’d completed them.”

Through Dr. Erikson, Park immersed himself in osteology and myology — the study of the bone and muscular systems, respectively. The classes were so in-depth that they led to unique opportunities such as studying human cadavers.

For years, Park took the standard approach of drawing and painting from direct observation, but his passion for anatomy brought on a limitation that led to the discovery of his greatest strength.

“It came out of necessity,” Park said. “I couldn’t afford models or even have friends model for me because these portraits took around 60-80 hours. I was having trouble maintaining my classical technique. In the past six years, I’ve shifted gears and gone exclusively from imagination. It’s definitely the next step forward for me and I’m challenging myself to see what I can accomplish just from what I can remember.”

Park next to his "Shark Boy"  mural located in Playa del Rey.

Park next to his “Shark Boy” mural located in Playa del Rey.

The evolution of his style brought upon a commercial viability in the work he does outside of his personal creations.

“One thing I found that was very easy for me is that if a director or producer throws out an idea, I can execute it very quickly,” Park said. “I had practiced for the past six years to not use source material and by drawing only from my imagination in a tangible and realistic way, I could crank this work out.”

So much so that he can immediately see the advantages of his unique approach when working with his peers.

“It was an unexpected surprise,” Park said. “I was working alongside guys who have been working longer than I’ve been alive and I was finding that I was producing faster than they were when drawing anything based around human form.”

Despite his artistic strengths, he is quick to realize his potential shortcomings. When asked if he has had to change his aesthetic to adapt to a more digital landscape, he is one of a few that can say he has not.

“I haven’t had to by sheer luck, but for most companies, they probably wouldn’t even look at my resume,” Park said.

For now, his commissioned murals, which can be found around Los Angeles have given him enough work to keep him busy.

“I have a painting at Seoul Sausage in [L.A.'s] Little Osaka and it turns out Mike Johnson [director of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride] and his wife found my work there, tracked me down and recruited me for his character design department on his latest project,” Park said.

This particular work piqued the interest of Mike Johnson, director of Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, to hire Park for another project.

This particular work at Seoul Sausage Company piqued the interest of Mike Johnson, director of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, to hire Park for another project. (Courtesy of Seoul Sausage Company)

As for his own personal work, his latest series titled “Gorilla Warfare” creates an urban juxtaposition of war and peace around human subjects.

If you know Park personally, you can tell he’s passionate, even to the point of obsessed, with modern politics. He insists that his audience extract their own meaning from his work and makes sure his inspiration isn’t too transparent.

“Ambiguity invites debate. It invites independent thought. It allows the viewer to bring him or herself into the piece,” said Park.

His work more than likely accomplishes that through a refined chaos that gives an observer a taste of violence, beauty and playfulness.

To see more of John Park’s work, visit his Instagram here.

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