pen and paper stickymonger interview artworks art artist
Pen & Paper: Stickymonger
An exclusive look inside the artist’s studio at NYC’s 3 World Trade Center.

Joohee Park, a.k.a Stickymonger, is a Brooklyn-based artist who transforms physical spaces into otherworldly domains with her large-scale mural installations. These sprawling, interior and exterior artworks are usually composed of custom stickers that she slices from huge sheets of vinyl and then installs on the wall by hand. Her fantastical subjects portray little girls with expressive eyes which she attributes to her longtime fascination with animation.

Stickymonger is rapidly establishing herself in the fine contemporary art space, and with that, her mastery of diverse mediums. The artist is currently wrapping up a solo exhibition called “Searching for Something That Isn’t There” at New York City’s AFA Gallery. This latest presentation signals her departure from acrylic and vinyl artworks. Instead, she utilized water-based spraypaint for the first time to create stirring works on tondo canvasses. These visceral compositions were crafted using black and white paint that stems from her childhood experience of growing up in a suburban town in South Korea. As a kid, she worked in her family’s gas station. She recounts playing hide-and-seek amongst the oil cans, playing in the station’s garages bedaubed with petroleum puddles that mirrored the gloomy scenes portrayed in her latest series.

We recently paid a visit to Stickymonger’s studio located on the entire 50th floor of 3 World Trade Center in New York City. There, we interviewed her for our latest Pen & Paper series where she relayed her newfound affinity for creating water-based spray-paint pieces, quitting her corporate job to pursue art full-time, and why she never paints in the summertime.

“My parents didn’t consider doodling cartoons as a serious future job or goal.”Where did you get the name Stickymonger?

I got that name because I was so obsessed with making artworks with stickers. My first solo show was in 2014 at the Bunnycutlet Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, and I made a huge installation using only black vinyl. In June 2015, I started to do acrylic painting. I combined it with my vinyl installations to convert places into my own imaginative world. On top of that, I started to create sellable pieces.

When did you begin to develop a passion for art?

I grew up in a really suburban city in South Korea. My father has been running a gas station for over 40 years and as a kid, I would just hang out there among all the oil barrels and imagine fun situations. I was a big fan of animation and that got me interested to create my own doodles and paintings. I didn’t have a lot of friends back then and I would just pass time reading a bunch of cartoon books. Like every Korean or Asian parent, mine wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer. My parents didn’t consider doodling cartoons as a serious future job or goal. But as I grew up, I kept bothering them about it. I told my mom, “Mom, I want to go to art school, and do design. Surprisingly, she said “Okay.” And then I was like, “Oh, that was easy.” Now, my parents are super supportive and they just let me do whatever I want.

Did you attend art/design school in Korea?

Yes, Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul. I messed around with multi-media art and experimental animation because I was a fan of MTV station ID. That channel showed cool short clips and I was really into those kind of things. Creating animations was totally eating up my life so I told myself that I need to focus on more serious art stuff. After I graduated, I was an exchange student in New York City.

“As a foreigner, it wasn’t easy to start a career as an artist.”What challenges did you face in starting a career as an international artist?

As a foreigner, it wasn’t easy to start a career as an artist. I also had financial and visa issues so I got right to work in a corporate job. I worked as a graphic designer at Ogilvy and Mather for years. I’m very fluent in Adobe suite softwares. From editing photos to creating animations as well as calligraphy and illustration, they handed me any visual assignment imaginable. I basically did everything.

How did you find time to create original paintings while working at this corporate job?

I wasn’t at a creative department at Ogilvy and Mather. I was in corporate communications so that’s why it’s a little bit different and it really helped me with my own works. I didn’t need to waste too much creative energy into the company, you know, it’s pretty much a bit of creativity and maintenance. At six o’clock, I would go home and make artworks in my studio apartment. To be honest with you, I’ve been working there full-time up until last year. The funniest thing about my job was that my team was very selfish. They would take their own lives very seriously, but respect others’ lives very seriously too. We would all take vacations to work on our own personal projects or artworks. Even my boss, he had a secret rose garden or something. It was his hobby.

What made you comfortable to leave Ogilvy and pursue art full time? Until last year I’ve been working pretty much as a full time contractor and getting more, like cutting time like working time there and then focus more on my own art career. I think its working very well, cause I feel like I’m getting more, I get to have a more chance of being an artist, like a full time artist. I have now a handful of projects that I can’t really take care of anymore working as a designer.

“I draw people with giant holes in their faces because I have no idea what people think.”Let’s talk about this crazy huge studio that you have in the 50th floor of the 3 World Trade Center. How did you manage to get the entire space?

Two years ago, I had a street art project with them in the building. They had these tall windows and back then I was doing more sticker installations over mural, so I wrapped the windows with vinyl. It was crazy, I spent my entire summer in that building. The building managers didn’t want to make it the development super corporate. They loved my installation and told me that I can have a residency here on the 50th floor. Dara McQuillan, he’s the voice and face of the World Trade Center and marketing officer for Silverstein property who owns the building. He’s my angel and really supportive of me. Silverstein supported artists for a long time and helped out artists who lost their families from 9/11 actually.

Going back to your art, where did you get the inspiration for these female subjects? Any other references?

I’m a woman, its easy to draw because I always draw something very close to me. I like monsters and weird creatures and I just draw a woman because I’m a woman. I don’t have specific references, you know, it’s just myself and whatever I feel. Also, whatever I think is funny and weird like personal fears. Let’s say like a personal fear of long black hair or strawberries, something like that. I’m also interested in black little holes because you never know what’s behind them.

Black holes? Tell us more.

Yeah, I’m really scared of tiny ones. I draw people with giant holes in their faces because I have no idea what people think. In my works, I try to invoke my own personal fears or interests to a particular object or human. It’s pretty much humans. And, every two or three years I change my materials because my interest to other mediums is always growing. I started with vinyl stickers then acrylic and now water-based spray paint. I was inspired by a friend who has a good command of regular acrylic spraypaint. My friend is good in making clean lines with the tool, but I’m super clumsy and not at all interested in clean lines anyway. I prefer effortless and clumsy lines over fine lines. There’s a Japanese term called Heta-Uma. Heta means bad, but Uma means good. So my clumsy lines may look really bad, but somehow it’s actually good.

“I just want to capture these never-ending moments or feelings that inspire me.”Why do you prefer water-based over acrylic?

This past August, my friend taught me some techniques. Instead of acrylic, I wanted to use water-based because I can play with it more freely. It’s water soluble and when it’s wet I can better manipulate the compositions. It’s more flexible basically. I started using it and I’m like, “Oh shit, I think I can use this.” I brought one of the paintings to AFA gallery and the owner really liked it so much that she wanted to do a show.

Are there particular narratives or stories behind your bodies of work?

Its just my personal preference. Whenever I see a movie or animation I always like when people don’t understand the ending. I just love the story more over than happy endings because it leaves more room for imagination. That’s why I love the movies from the ‘80s and ‘90s because a majority of them leave you clueless when they end. For my paintings, there are no endings and I just work really hard to try to get to an ending or maybe I never will. That’s my personal preference and I love it so much. I just want to capture these never-ending moments or feelings that inspire me.

How often do you paint now since it’s full time? Any hobbies you do outside of painting?

Everyday! It’s really funny, but I can’t paint during the summer and I also never have shows in the summer. I only do gallery shows in wintertime like January, March, November, etc. Summer never inspires me somehow, it’s too bright for me. Also, summer makes me sleepy and I end up not painting. Generally, it’s pretty much random. Sometimes I paint a lot and sometimes, I don’t paint at all. My hobby outside of painting is walking. I walk for hours around New York City to the point that I have feet issues. Usually, I spend more time walking that I do painting. I get inspired by walking around, especially late at night when the city lights are everywhere. I just want to freeze those nighttime moments into my paintings, but I’m never going to capture it. I’ll just keep walking some more.


Credits
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Eddie Lee/Hypebeast
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