Sobin Park: Pictograph to Sign
Tenri Cultural Institute
Oct. 19 – Nov. 22, 2023
Tenri Cultural Institute presents Sobin Park: Pictograph to Sign, an exhibition of recent monumental multi-paneled pencil and powder works on paper, curated by Dr. Thalia Vrachopoulos. Among these works there is also a huge framed compilation of multiple sheets with small drawings mingled with lines of text. This body of work spans the years from 2021 to 2023 when Park experienced personal isolation of the strict Covid lockdown in China which was enforced to its final end in 2023. Korean-born Sobin Park lives and works in Beijing, China, returning to Korea to visit family. One of the most dominant traits of her art is the tremendous energy she instills into the enormous charged formats conflated with her personal style of mark-making. This endows the traditional symbolic narrative form of her works with a post-modern edge. Her feminine style of touch is delicate due to the graphite material, yet powerful, organic and creative; there is nothing manufactured or pre-processed about it. She does not insert photography or digital imagery into her harmonious formats.
Park's show reveals crucial shifts in her recent focus, as the signature female nudes and traditional swirling Chinese dragons have receded significantly, morphing into environments that suggest smoldering internal emotions within active landscapes of the body's unseen terrain. The introspective new works shed meaning on the experience of solitude the Covid lockdown enforced. Deeply felt narratives are articulated in somber dark tones, achieved solely with sanguine, pencil and bronze powder on paper panels. The scope of the immense "Heaven in Love" (7'6 ½" x 19' 8", 2.30 x 6 meters) 2021, signifies the life-view of an artist reacting to a world of uncertainty that encompasses danger, fear, harsh government reactions to violence, and limitations attendant to a global pandemic.
In "Heaven in Love," Park's individualized diminutive female has ebbed into the comfort of an inner cocoon amidst a spectral dragon that has lost its specificity, but is nonetheless imbued with eyes and sharp horns and hoofs, its leftover remnants. The artist experiences her own metamorphosis as her works transition into inner tableaux consonant with universal consciousness. The nestled embryo-like figure conveys a desire for security within the symbolic mother's womb that speaks of the love of the universe within us in our earthbound existence. The abundant overlapping pencil strokes create evocative biomorphic forms in plant, animal and human shapes; as such the format conjures a living universe suspended in the heavens, amidst tiny orb-shaped entities that may be interpreted as visible galaxies. Emotion responds organically before thought intervenes to modulate our raw feelings about unimaginable events. This scene evokes the emergence of creation at its early genesis in the womb. Asian emanation of a morphing symbolic dragon is associated with fertility and the heavens. In European tradition, fire breathing dragons connote chaos or evil.
Park shifts her focus in the four-panel piece entitled "The New Myth" (7' 2 1/2" x 19' 8", 2.20 x 6 meters), 2023 in which the iconography melts into the blackness of the extra dark pencil and bronze powder on paper. The dominant mossy-looking hill-form has segued into an independent creature with visible eyes above an open mouth that extrudes long tongue-like tentacles. While slightly frightening to the eye, this hazy manifestation of embodied emotion emits a sense of playful pleasure. In the bordering panel the artist creates a swarming snake seething with dense overlapping rounded pencil marks verging on a deep dark habitat whose core contains orange jewels. This panel exudes highly concentrated feeling, not easily analyzed. These rounded rings are recreated in the next two panels of the piece with varying levels of darkness modulated in the overlapped lines that surround it. A crawling creature on the top left hints at a hand with stubby fingers or teeth. The final panel in the piece replicates this section, displaying advanced light-dark contrast as the light accentuates the drama of the moving dark form.
Sobin Park's art follows the rhythms and cycles of nature in a dusk to dawn sequence of ever diminishing light. Her three-panel piece "Heaven in Love" displays a dragon-like being whose details are fading in the low contrast light one finds at dusk. The four related panels of, "New Myth," take up the narrative in "Heaven in Love" as the light recedes to the blackness of slumbering consciousness. These two works evoke individual consciousness as it evolves over the course of the night, to expand through dreams into the macrocosm of the outer universe. The dusky light begins to morph into tiny particles within the "Heaven in Love" format that relate to the structures in the heavens. The two right panels in "New Myth" correlate with the ever-brightening light, that illuminates the last panel in the growing glow of dawn.
In China, dragons are related to the four seasons and to the four directions. The dragon is the fifth sign of the Chinese zodiac, whose influence impacts people with energy and honesty. Black is related to the female principle or Yin in Daoist philosophy. Black corresponds to water, winter and to the north; it is linked with the earth and the moon. Sobin Park's work exemplifies the female principle as it relates to creative power, productivity and inventiveness. It is courageous, unique and relevant.