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Jinie Park
Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland, Oregon
Review by Richard Speer

Jinie Park, “Autumn Light,” 2021, acrylic on sewn Kwangmok (Korean muslin), cheesecloth and wooden frame, 73 x 36 1/2”


Continuing through December 31, 2021


To borrow from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” Jinie Park can “walk with kings, nor lose the common touch.” The almost regal aloofness of her immaculate, color-blocked compositions stands in opposition to their rough-hewn, plebeian accessibility. On one hand, it would not surprise to see them installed in any number of A-list museums; conversely, one mightn’t look twice encountering them leaned against a brick wall on a Meatpacking District loading dock. Such is their paradox and unique beauty. The genesis of these works has roots in our common experience of pandemic lockdown, when most of us stuck close to home, venturing out only for essential activities. 


Park spent a lot of time looking out the window of her Philadelphia studio — and indeed, looking at the window itself with the kind of focused attention that enforced solitude can bring. This visual and aesthetic meditation led to “Windows,” the current suite of mixed-media works on panel. It may be more accurate to call them mixed-media works and panel, seeing as how the wooden supports are visually and conceptually coequal to the materials they buttress.


About those panels: not only does the artist leave much of them exposed, lending a modular, architectonic quality, she further accentuates that exposure by staining them, inviting the viewer’s eye into the space behind the picture plane. A visit this past May to Dia Beacon proved instrumental in how the works evolved. In particular, she was fascinated by an installation of Donald Judd’s modular wooden sculptures, in which physical and thematic frameworks merge. In works such as “Autumn Light,” “Creek,” and “Rainbow,” Park emphasizes their three-dimensionality by wedging one component grid out from the wall, creating a stair-step effect that gently pushes the compositions into space.


Atop the supports, the artist arranges hand-sewn grids of vividly stained fabrics: cotton canvas, cheesecloth, and kwangmok, an unsized muslin from her native South Korea that is sometimes used in funerary preparations. I’m told the funerary aspect is not intended as relevant (she has been using the textile for years), yet I would suggest that during a spectacularly deadly global pandemic, one would be myopic not to feel a heightened resonance. With their delicate staining, their seepage and migration of pigment, the gridded fabrics suggest Color Field painting and rectilinear abstraction, but with a distinct weathering, as if a Helen Frankenthaler or Ellsworth Kelly painting has been thrown into a pebble-filled washing machine along with several pairs of stone-washed Levis. They’re a little bit uptown, a little bit downtown. The incongruity is part of the allure. 


“Tide,” atypical in the series for its bilateral symmetry, exerts a mystical pull, a Rorschach-meets-Rothko gravitas. Throughout, the color palette is directly responsive to Park’s experience of light over a mesmeric expanse of cooped-up days, weeks, and months, studio lighting mixed with sunshine streaming through that looming window. Luminosity and chroma are joined at the meeting place of imprisonment and the promise of the world outside, beckoning, taunting, a scrim for projecting our hopes for post-pandemic life.

Elizabeth Leach Gallery

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