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Dae Cho PARK

Dae Cho PARK, Daesan Art Museum


1970, Seoul


Painting, Photography, Media



The Tears of Kim Jeong-ho, 2011

Light box, color change, 154 x 120cm

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Dae Cho Park : The Innocent Children

Dae Cho Park makes affecting works that reference the cool world of media and the greater circumstances, not without grief, of contemporary experience. He works by painting over photographs of children, joining two mediums to portray his subjects in a kind of purgatory. Park’s treatment of serious questions of aesthetic import suggests that he is committed to a wide-ranging, philosophical vision of real life. In many ways, like the midcareer artists of his generation, he straddles the difficulties facing not only Korean society but the global situation at large. His work presupposes an awareness of modernism and its postmodern developments, and the elegance of his surfaces make it clear that he is very aware of the lure of the gilded image, the photograph’s ability to stop time, even if only for a moment. The resulting images captivate in the instant they are viewed, but they also deserve greater meditation, in keeping with the serious implications of their content. This is work of its time, but there is also the suggestion that there is a future for them as documents of a Korea facing up to the challenges in the world.

One of the ethical touchstones of our historical memory regards our feelings about the atomic bomb, which created a great divide in our moral reasoning before and after the event. Boom Boom, a photograph of an Asian child’s eyes, the lower half of her face is covered by a black scarf, would be a compelling image of innocence if not for the atomic mushroom clouds found dead center in each of her pupils. How do we understand the extraordinary weight of an image of a young child who carries death in her gaze? This is not a jaded image, but it does suggest a provocation: we know that through the history of literature, there is often a connection between beauty and death, but it is rare to find so obvious an identification between the two. Perhaps the truth is that we can no longer afford to be roundabout in our presentation of atomic destruction, which still threatens us. The eyes of the young girl, as beautiful as she may be, show us a different version of reality, filled with the implications of suffering. As a result, there is a gravitas that subverts the gleaming attractiveness of the face, making the artwork a study in the brutal implications of whole-scale destruction.

A City-Bred Child, in many ways similar to Boom Boom, consists of a mixed-media, transparency image, again of a girl’s eyes and hair; she too has her lower face covered by an article of clothing. But the upper face this time is composed of bright-green squares, a re-envisioning of the simpler, but just as effective, image we face in Boom Boom. This small series is not without its visual expressiveness, although it is clear that its content possesses danger. Another piece, Broken Heart, shows an image of a little girl in an acrylic painting that follows an engraving. Done in deep greens that darken almost to black, Broken Heart is an affecting work of art, whose formal arrangement is organized by a series of lines describing rectangles and squares over the surface of the image. At once a tour de force technical exercise and an emotionally compelling image, Broken Heart shows us that the dignity, the spiritual worth of children remains a strong interest of the artist, taking first place in his artistic focus. As a group, the images show us that behind the suave surface of the pictures there lies a deeper purpose and more serious intention than viewers might initially pick up. This gravity of purpose links Park to Buddhism and its high regard for all forms of life.

As Park points out, his images concern the suffering that occurs in the world. The artist who made the paintings I describe contains them within the confines of his working imagination. Yet the reminder of public disaster remains. The haunting gaze of the young Korean girl acts as a striking moral reminder of experience. While it is painful to see a girl’s eyes communicate a holocaust as part of their claim on the viewer, it is nonetheless a demand that we face the actuality of historical experience. No matter the absurdity of finding the mushroom clouds in the eyes of a child whose countenance after all is a reflection of our own; what matters is that the image is not processed superficially, but rather as a notion of what we are capable of doing, as horrible as it may be. The realism we come across in Park’s art fills it with a tangible presence, which intimates not only the innocence of children but also the infinitely barbaric violence of the atomic bomb. As a result, Park comes down pretty much on the side of experience, using his imagination to draw attention to facts we would rather not face.

This preference for a close-to-brutal realism shows us that there are still artists who are willing to commit themselves to describing destructive impulses, even as they contrast malevolent events with the haunting blamelessness of youth. The choice is clear: either we can try to raise our children as the innocents they are, or we can subject them to death and destruction. Art should report on the human condition as objectively as it can, not because it is bound to do so but because it offers us a mirror of infinite variation. Thus, the great range of subjects we treat in art cannot only concern innocence; it must address the violence that is part of life. Aware of ethical culpability, Park presents to us small spectacles of narration that throw light on problems we are all beset with. The conflation of beauty with the bomb is a moral subversion, but one that reflects our own culpability internationally. However honest we may be with ourselves, however moved we may be by what is beautiful, we have to come to grips with our capacity for creating violence. By claiming beauty as an ally, Park sweetens the pill that we all must take. It is not his fault that we remain what we are.

Jonathan GOODMAN (Art Critic)


Daecho Park creates portraits of children affected by the trials of life yet at one with nature. Another words, he expresses that nature which although belabored by its steep climb through life, can maintain the innocence found in children. But, while they appear innocent enough, these children bear the mark of desolation, loss and pain, that can often be glimpsed in their eyes. Park believes that our nature is damaged by social and personal irrational desires. His portrayed sitters are metaphors of an existential moment during which they question not only the foundations of their lives but also, its meaning. This idea is prevalent in Buddhism as well, and embraces the idea that our objective world is only illusory and that we will suffer as a humanity until we learn to let go of our earthly desires. Indeed, Park grew up with Buddhist tenets in his proximity and furthermore, he has incorporated them into his Taoist beliefs that emphasize the rule of being at one with nature. His artworks as well as his written essays stem from these two religious philosophies in sync. Park has done serious work on Lao Tzu and Chuang-tzu who believed that one must live with respect to nature. For Park this is not some antediluvian throw back to religion, but arises out of real concern for the environment and is revived as a viable philosophy to place emphasis on the benefits of a nature in harmony. The destruction of the ozone layer by air pollution, water and soil contamination or nuclear waste would have been unimaginable to Park's ancestors.
Unlike the text portraits of Ralph Ueltzhoeffer who uses typeface to reference the DOS digital language, Park transfers his photographs of children on natural material such as stone. Then he paints them often in monochrome or black and white to express the inclusion of all color in one and the absence of all color in the other as a way of returning to nature. Man returns to the earth when he dies becoming part of nature, and to Park "stone is the fossil of nature on which human time is carved." Because of this, we can say that he tries to enliven the inert stone giving it new life as a portrait of an innocent child new and ready to start life.
Like Gerhard Richter, Park considers portraiture of utmost importance. But, Park and Richter transform the sitter whether media personality, real person, or imaginary. These two artists, have broadened the definition of the portrait genre while challenging the standard model of art media. Park's work like Richter's straddles the categories of painting and photography but Park broadens its demarcation by his embrace of sculpture also. He engraves, carves or cuts into the stone painting images that include grids or other ray lines that separate and displace portions of the face like shafts of light as seen in his Binarity 2, 2008. Another difference between the two artists is Richter's use of oil paint directly on photographs. Park also likes to take advantage of the accidental spots or spills or crevices present in his original support materials. So that in his 2009 painting entitled Wild Flower, painted and engraved on topaz Onyx, Park allows the natural proclivities of the stone to show through by lighting the image from behind.
Since its inception photography had had a problematic relationship with painting. But, since the 1980s there has taken place a dialogue between these media that is rich and varied. Often exchanging visual vocabularies sometimes seen in photographs as the gesture, or in paintings as photorealism, these two genres cross-pollinate each other. Within the last two decades photography has broken with the old constraints to cross the boundaries of media and be transformed into a rich dialogue. Park who studied at Sang-Myung University in Seoul, South Korea additionally incorporates Eastern philosophy into his works that are informed by these concepts. And, like the new life to which he alludes, through his children, he brings images to life.

Dr. Thalia Vrachopoulos (Exhibitions Director)