Seungyea Park aka Spunky Zoe is a hardworking artist who is always literally in beast-mode. She strives to show the monsters that we have all become or try so hard to hide. Spunk Zoe is on a quest to stare fear in the face and break boundaries with stories hidden in captivating art produced in ink. She channels humanity in intense drawings that make viewers feel watched. She is honest, humble and very authentically deep. We were able to get her to answer a few questions in between her busy schedule. We think we scratched the surface but are also aware that there is so much more to learn about this interesting personality.
What is your background (where are you from, where did you grow up, childhood interests, etc.)?
I was born in Seoul Korea. After I finished the high school, I moved to New York to study fine art. Almost all of my 20's were spent in NY going to school, taking trips, working, experiencing the different cultures and basically having several 'adventures'.
When did you know that you were an artist?
At the age of 3 is when I realized I was an artist. My older brother was really smart and I always compared myself to him. I used to have light symptoms of dyslexia. Reading and writing were difficult for me, and with a very smart brother, I felt I had a problem. I was just a little kid, and this issue did not make me sad, or upset. Rather, it made me seek something that would make my parents proud of me. I then noticed that I was kind of good at drawing. At that time, I told my parents and everybody around me that "I will become an artist!" Since then, my dream has never changed. Even though I have become quite strong at reading, and writing (I even have my book published), I have always known that art is the best language which I can use to tell stories I want to tell. Also, art is the thing that makes me the most happy.
What is your preferred medium for the creation of art and why?
Ballpoint pen is what I mostly use, and sometimes I use some different types of pens, and ink on paper. Using pens make me like I am writing stories. It really does not feel like I am drawing on paper.
What does art mean to you?
To be honest, I don't know what art is. In college and at graduate school, I studied art. People call me an artist, and I am working, and making a living as an artist. However, I don't know what art is. I don't know even why I have a deep need to do this. But this is the only thing I know and it is the only thing that gives me life and a reason to live. I work 12 hours a day, and 7 days a week making art because it makes me happy. As I've already mentioned, doing art is like writing a story to me. My art is like ‘talking’ to me. I am talking 12 hours a day, and 7 days a week. I might be a very talkative person who still has so many things left to talk about.
How do you describe your form of art?
Others call my works surrealism. Almost all gestures, things, facial expressions, etc. which appear in my works are 'signs' which I use to hide stories. Sometime, it's very obvious, but sometimes it is not. What I believe is that viewers need to have some have the allowance or flexibility, to enable them interpret my art with their own imaginations and languages.
What inspires your particular art style?
I might have been influenced, and inspired by all the artists, ideas, literatures, and etc. of history. However, I am not so sure if my works have been inspired by any particular style. I love cartoons, watching movies, reading books, and seeing other artists’ works. I think my works have been inspired by all the things around in everyday life.
In some of your work there is a clear ethnic influence, how has being born and raised in South Korea influenced your work? Do you deliberately pay homage to Korea in your work?
As a matter of fact, I've never thought about my works as having any ethnic influences. South Korea has had swift economic development and this led to speedy westernization. I grew up eating hamburgers and listening American pop music. Also I've spent my 20's in NY, USA. I don’t think I have had enough of an opportunity to be 'ethnic'. The interesting thing is because I am an Asian, if I draw a ‘tiger’; it is viewed differently from a 'tiger' drawn by a western artist.
The “human head” is a major part of your work and you utilize various angles of the “human head”- is there a reason for this or is there some symbolism related to this? Along with the “human head”, “human hands “make several appearances in your pieces – again, are you conveying something specific with this that patrons should be aware of?
There have been many artists who have been obsessed with showing 'hands' in their works. Hands are very much like the ‘face’. Both show all the emotions a person can have. Not every one of my works are of heads and hands, I have some pieces that show whole figures of human body. However, I draw just heads, and hands in most of my works because they are just enough to express what I am trying to say.
You do not use too much color in your work – why?
The most important reason is that I am not much attracted to colors. I am more attracted to 'light.' I can't even remember if I dream in color. Colors are beautiful, but they are confusing to me. I call myself ‘emotionally color blind.'
We have noticed some awesome images of a horse and a dog among your work, that is a little bit of a departure from your usual human depictions – why these animals?
I use them as symbols of a 'tamed human-being' in this system. This system which I called – ‘human society’ has tamed people in the form of animals.
The faces in your art pieces have a bewildered but intense stare – what are these characters looking at and what are they thinking?
When I started these 'face monster' series, the eyes were different from the eyes you see in the drawings now. In the beginning, the eyes had no focus, or it seemed like they were avoiding eye contact with viewers. Then, I decided to change them to make them look at viewers’ eyes even though it would make most people uncomfortable (and hence make the pieces harder to sell). I did this because the message I am trying to convey is 'staring at Fear.'
What are you trying to convey with your art? Is there a bigger purpose to what you express?
I've thought about what have made us 'Monsters', and this is what I am trying to explain through my works. 'Fear' is one of the things which I think turns us into monsters. We are scared by many things, even the things that don’t exist, or never even happen. We create a boundary and treat others who don't belong within our boundary as monsters that can harm, and destroy us. As a matter of fact, while treating others as monsters (because we have this fear), we become the real monsters. I am trying to look at the 'fear' in the eyes, and suggest that others do the same.
What is the biggest compliment that you have received about your art? What is the biggest criticism you have endured regarding your art?
I am very honored, and impressed when someone buys one of my pieces. I am not just talking about money; I am talking about the honor of having someone using their hard earned resources to acquire my work. I am also honored when people come to my shows to see my works. Some people tell me that they took several hours (on trains, or buses) to come to see my show. People spending time and/or money to see my works is the best compliment and this dwarfs any criticism.
What artist would you consider your biggest role model?
I admire almost all the great artists. I love them and view their works as a fan. However, I am not influenced, nor have any role model at this moment as an artist. I am digging into my own subconscious.
Does your art currently pay the bills?
It has never been easy, but yes. I've sold some of my works, have received funds for artists, and have also won some awards in the last few years. I am always amazed with people who buy my works. I am also always amazed when art foundations or the government give me funds because I am an artist. The awards I have received have encouraged me greatly and the support helps me to keep creating. You can view and/or purchase Spunky Zoe's work here.
When you are down and things seem a little hopeless, what song or book or image or piece of art, etc. brings you back up?
Lady Gaga is one of the artists that cheer me up! She also shows many monsters in her music and performances.
See more of Spunky Zoe's work in the slideshow above.
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