“It’s About Your Rest”: Park Cheong Yong’s Shades of Caring Breathes

Calmly grounded, Park Cheong Yong’s works allow the viewers to take a breather. They are unusually patient; they are caring.

On the opening day of Park Cheong Yong’s solo exhibition at Art Center Zain, there was a long, lean table in the middle of the gallery space. Beautifully made vegan plates, a few bottles of wine, and a cake. People filled the space. And their movements and murmurs.

The second time, the gallery floor was empty. The eye-/tongue-catching table was gone. I registered the space’s large floor-to-ceiling window for the first time. Walking in, what first greeted me wasn’t the artwork, but trees and a mountain ridge kissing the sky, framed by the window. As if urging me to take in the serenity of the outside first, the paintings hung on the side walls out of my immediate perspective.

Some artwork wants to grab your attention immediately whether through colors, forms, or placements in space, as if hungry for your pristine gaze. Perhaps it’s because they are confident. Or perhaps they are hasty, even anxious.

Park Cheong Yong’s works, then, are patient.

They are not, however, humble. While Park’s paintings don’t assert themselves aggressively, they don’t consciously hide their tranquil yet potent aura. Calmly grounded, they allow the viewers to take a breather. They wait for the viewers to turn down the daily noises and situate themselves in space. In a time when breathless “go, go, go” and brazen self-promotion are virtues, Park’s works are not only unusually patient but caring. 

Art Center Zain, Seoul, South Korea

“You can teach your daughter how to rest, rather than how to live.”

The artist said, refilling my teacup. I just complained that I didn’t want my two-year-old to go through the grueling Korean teenage life that I had toiled in, studying away the waking hours, dead inside. But if I try to veer her away from that path, he said, I’d still be controlling a significant element in her life. His words revealed my restlessness—what if my child suffers as I did? What if she doesn’t listen to my “advice”? The kind of impatience that leaves you short of breath. Gently, the artist made me aware of it.   

This is how Park Cheong Yong’s works guide you. With tender firmness, they whisper to you how to rest. In that caring sparseness, they wait for you until you’re ready to rest. 

Park’s paintings don’t choreograph your gaze and movements; nor do they force a singular mode of rest. It is not about being visually minimal as in certain mindfulness trends, purging the canvas of bright colors or objects. Park’s palette flows from subdued black ink to an iridescent rainbow. The viewers would move through each one’s distinct temperature. For instance, the wave of yellow that nearly burns white in Rainbow resuscitates a lethargic heart like a delicate electric shock. 

Rainbow, 2022, Acrylic on hanji, 120 x 90 cm

But to burn bright also means to be consumed. Having gone through a period of blazing drive (or desperation) that pushed him to fill canvas after canvas, Park knows this too well. So, he prepares a cooldown. 

Eighty-Four Thousand “Violet” was in a separate corner away from the rainbow’s brilliance. 

The palette spreads from lavender to muted amethyst as if the praying figures are folded in clouds. While the purple hues appear feathery light, their emotional weight is not. It brings you down. Not suffocatingly but like the weight of a consoling palm on your shoulder. 

Urging you to sit down. And breathe.

You oblige. 

Eighty-Four Thousand “Violet,” 2024, Ink on hanji, acrylic, 127.5 x 183 cm

Breathing slows down. The stomach, heavy, as if there is a lump that you were not aware of. At one point, you have to lift your eyes from the profound purple and look outside the window on the left at the open sky and lightly leafed trees. 

The searing pulses from the rainbow are gone. In its place, pools in a lilac fog, its weight quietly pressing you to the bench until your breathing becomes regular and deep.

You finally stand up and walk up close to the painting. Unlike the others in Park’s paintings, the bowing figures don’t stand up. All are protruding, heads on the ground as if something is pulling them. Or, is it because they wanted to feel that pull with every inch of their bodies? Together, the molecular prayers form an anchored fog, ungraspable and soothingly substantial.

“2 to 3 days after I finished this painting, I could see how saturated my mind was for the past 8 to 9 years. I realized then what it meant to ‘empty out.’ […] With a blank space in my mind, I started to see people who helped me when I was lost,” said Park. The Eighty-Four Thousand series rose from the artist’s restlessness. But endowed with his new-found gratitude and affection, in the series’s finale, “Violet, the purple channels not only the weight of past afflictions but unadorned consolation. 

Close-up of Eighty-Four Thousand “Violet” (2024)

I didn’t mention how many praying figures populate Park’s work. Countless. Nor did I mention how they connect to the artist’s Buddhist practice. Deeply.

This is not to be flippant or irreverent. This is from the hope to deliver the paintings’ solace intact—the sometimes invisible vibrations that the jaw-dropping number (“eighty-four thousand”) and an easy label (“it’s Buddhist”) may distract you from receiving.

If you breathe in the modes of rest in Park’s paintings rather than knowing conceptual entry points, I dare say you will have connected with them more sincerely. Because then you will have responded to Park’s wish.

With a faint smile in his eyes—which reminds you of a stream of distilled water from mountain rocks—Park said “I looked at myself in the last exhibition. I’ve made peace with the past. Now I want to connect with the world.”

With the world, with you.

Perhaps it’s Park’s ardently human wish to connect that lifts an austere aura from his painstaking brush strokes. The strokes’ sheer quantity could have made the paintings intimidating, inducing the kind of awe and even dread that you feel when confronting a work that displays the creator’s intense dive into their mind, body, or emotions. A dive so focused and guarded that you dare not approach.

No such reservedness is present in Park’s work, even in the painting that appears most taxing in scale and therefore most solemn. 

Close-up of Someone Is Praying for You 20-11 (2022) 

The glaring sunlight is deftly blocked for you to be embraced by the painting’s translucent cadence. 10 panels, each populated with prayers, fill the entire wall. On the opposite side, there is again, a bench. An invitation.

Please sit down.

And this time, try sitting longer. Wait for your breathing to sync with the prayers’ (or fellow breathers’) illusive rhythm. Wait till your eyes let go of the initial awe at the number of figures. Wait till your entire body senses the air flowing through what appears to be a massive, inked wall.

The scale of the painting isn’t about the master’s hermetic discipline. 

It is about the scale of your rest. An infinite “prayer for you.”  

A small, fragrant bliss, you will find while following Park’s restful breaths. This is the artist, sharing his serene affection and solace with those who have forgotten to breathe.

“Painting all in mad yellow? Oh, that’d be IN-teresting…”

Said Park as we talked about his pulsing lemon yellow. I wondered with an admirer’s excitement if a whole new mode of connection would open in the artist’s world. After the revitalizing and consoling rest, what will come next? 

Perhaps his compassionate playfulness will find itself on the present canvas of loving patience. It will still reach out to us, but in a way that may deftly surprise all, including Park.

Will we sit long in front of his canvas again? Will we twirl and dance?  

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