Juxtapoz Magazine – Last Call: An Interview with Anna Park

A museum show is a moment of reflection, a point to consider a career but also an opportunity for an artist, if they are still living, to build an entirely new experience with their own work. To re-curate themselves, so to speak. For NYC-based Anna Park, whose ascension in the fine art world, straight out of art school, it’s a pivotal moment to mark a change. “It becomes a new thing, which was exciting,” Park says. “I had some time to separate myself from, to have distance from the older work, too. I wanted to see my work from a different lens.” Last Call, on view now at SCAD’s Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia, came on the precipice of Park mentioning a transition in her style and work, but an opportunity to see, on a large-scale, her intricate and dizzying charcoal works.

When she emerged on the scene in 2019, her work was a fresh take on our dionysian pleasures, a sort of anonymous, fly on the wall depiction of social gatherings that become fueled by excess and a shedding of inhibition. For Last Call, those elements are there, but the works presented are an exemplary example of the manic nature of social media, a thrusting of imagery and the blurred submerging of pop-iconography into our collective psyches. That she presents work, just larger-than-life sized, is jarring and symbolically relevant. It makes us question what are the images that are thrown at us and how we participate in a passive, reverential culture. 

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Evan Pricco: So how did the SCAD Museum of Art approach you and what was their idea to you about showing this work?
Anna Park: Actually I had met Daniel Palmer, the new director here at the museum,  when we did a project together when he was still the curator for Art Production Fund in NYC. And when it came time for him to be down here, he said to me, “I’m doing this first museum shows and would you want to be part of it?” And I was amazed. This is my first US museum show and I’ve actually heard a lot about SCAD. A few of my friends work here and then I almost applied to here, actually. 

So it kind of came full circle a little bit. When it becomes a museum show, how does the process of elimination go of what you wanted to show? How did you settle on these 5 big works? 
I guess with these museum shows, it’s a bit of a process where I could look back upon past bodies of work and curate from there. And there’s one, the large three panel piece, Last Call, is the one new work and everything else was on loan. So I could look back, see what I have done in the past, pick and choose and curate my own show from past shows. It becomes a new thing, which was exciting. 

So it’s not like a greatest hits, you’re kind of curating yourself into a new story. 
Yeah, which is nice because I had some time to separate myself from… I had some distance from the older work, too. I wanted to see my work from a different lens. A few of the works were from my Tokyo show at Blum & Poe, and then the Half Gallery show in New York, so it’s half and half. A lot of the themes were still very similar because I made those two shows right next to each other, so I want to see them together in one space.

But does it change the way you look at the work?  Because you haven’t seen these works in a while, obviously.
Yeah, of course.

Does it change the way you see your own progress?
I think so. I think most of the time, after I’ve had some distance just viewing the works, and then it’s out of my studio, I have a better relationship with it. It’s almost, I’m like, okay, I had some separation so I was like maybe that wasn’t too bad (laughs). I don’t know? Or you realize what you had been thinking about making those works. Which I hadn’t known when I was fully making, because you were just immersed in the studio. But now coming out of it, I can see it more, not objectively, but I’m like, “These are some of the things I was thinking about and I have had some time to kind of digest it.”

Did you make the newest painting in response to these other works?
Not consciously. it was more just like, okay, this is the last hurrah for that body of work. And then I shifted a little bit out of that style.

Since I have known you, you have been on quite a busy schedule. Lots of shows, and just seems like a steady and busy progression. Have you given yourself a moment to reflect on what has been a quite extraordinary career path since school? 
Or just sit with myself and reflect on what I’m doing? 

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Maybe I’m asking if you have had the Larry David moment of “Pretty, pretty, pretty good.” 
I’m trying to get better at that live in the moment because I’m always just go-go-go, but I think the past few months have finally afforded me some time just to really think about it all. Not that I wasn’t thinking about what I was making, but it was just in reflection and response to the deadlines and everything working under pressure. Which is good. I think I need deadlines, although I think the work is stronger and my psyche’s better when I’m given more the  luxury of time. But before I just made it in that environment.

It’s almost anticlimactic once the show opens. There’s two things; one is sense of relief obviously, and the other this is impending depression because you’ve worked so much, a whole year, let’s say, to prepare for this show and this body of work that you put all of yourself in and then it goes up and you’re like, “Okay, so now what is the next thing…” But recently I’ve finally been trying to get more excited, I’m finishing the show for the LA show in Blum & Poe in November, and now I’m getting excited for the next body of work, too.

Will this experience change anything? Just again, seeing older work and just feeling the energy of seeing all this stuff together. Will that come into the studio at all?
Maybe. Maybe it gives me a bit of, not closure, but I think it’s nice to see and bring in old friends, basically. And then, because the new work right now is a little bit different, which is a little scary, so it’s nice to see what I was thinking about a year ago versus now.  There’s a lot of through lines still with the new body of work but I’ve shifted a bit in my style.

What I thought was great today at the preview was all the SCAD students here, asking questions, wanting tips and tools of the trade from you. And you were a student just a few years ago, so I could see a kinship and they were looking up to you with possibilities for themselves. Did you ever, yourself, go to previews or talks and raise your hand and ask questions of artists you admired? 
Well, just one in particular. I remember I went to a  Robin F Williams talk at my grad school but then I was too scared!. I was always very shy to ask questions. So that’s why it was so nice today when a lot of the students were actively asking questions, more technical stuff.

I walked through your show today before anyone else was here today and the scale of the works actually surprised me. I think the subject matter in the work, being life-size or if not slightly oversized, is a really smart representation of the ego of culture, and it feels like it’s so imposing in your work.
Yeah, more in your face. It’s a little bit, I don’t know, disconcerting. You’re almost like, what is that?

It feels a little bit more manic in a way, which I think is really effective.
Yeah, I guess it’s a reflection of my manicness, just sharing that side. If you have a little bit of ADD, being on the phone and on social media and the advertisements are screaming out at you, that’s maybe seeped into my working style. Just this influx of information and just in your face and everyone’s trying to distract you from your daily life.

The first works I saw of yours had this Dionysian kind of manicness to it, but now it feels there’s almost like this inundation of pop culture manicness going on. I think it’s really a reflection of how our relationship to sharing on social media has changed in just a few short years, the way we use these apps and the way these apps really just use us. And Last Call, that new piece is fantastic. 
Thanks. That one was a lot of fun.

Is it always fun? 
Making work or just everything? Yeah, there are moments where it’s really fun, but there are also a lot of moments where I’m just like, “What the fuck am I doing?” and I just cry and the self-doubt creeps in. But at the end of the day, I’m incredibly grateful and happy I can do this. But it’s the struggle of, there are days where I just complain about all this stuff and nothing’s going right in the studio. And I have to look beyond that and ask myself, “Well, you’re doing what you wanted to do for your whole life,” and hopefully I can keep doing this. So yeah, it is fun.

I think it’s either I just keep working through it and usually it’s a lot of just problem-solving, continuously, and then I resolve it in some way, either I just throw it away or I just start new. Or I have to remind myself I am not good at anything else (laughs). There are very few skill sets that would capture my attention long enough to be doing this and art has been the only thing so far that can keep me alive.

What would you do? If painting was off the table… 
I would love to make fake food for commercials. So weird. We watched these videos where it’s like, “Oh, this is how it’s made,”  and you make food for sets and props. . . 

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Yeah, or if you go to Japan, they have the fake food in the windows. 
Yes, love that. I don’t know why. Maybe I have an obsession with food.

That has almost zero to do with your work now. Maybe this sense of realism versus fantasy? 
I know. But maybe it’s this idea of indulgence, but then the fake foods are so, literally just for show and peak commercialism.

I thought you were going to say puppets. 
Puppets are my end goal, basically. I want to get to that point someday. I want to build puppets because I love the Muppet-type stuff.

Blum & Poe sent out a press teaser recently for your new show, and that one painting I saw is quite a change. It’s quite comic-book influenced.
That’s the new style. I’m kind of doing a whole brand new thing. I’m doing a more comic-inspired type of work. I think it has been ruminating in my mind for a long time, but then the past few years, I just never had the time or the gut reaction to be like, “Let’s just fucking do it.” But I think a few months ago, it didn’t feel fun anymore in the studio. Not that I don’t love drawing, it was more that I just wanted to do something that would be surprising for me. And I have worked with the medium of charcoal for a long time and I still haven’t abandoned it. I’ve been drawing in that style ever since I was little. So it’s the whole thing about always looking back into your childhood and maybe reliving childhood dreams sort of thing.