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Renowned Korean artist uses PCC to improve English skills
Photos and Story by James Hill
Soyoung Park is unlike other English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students at Portland Community College.
Park is a transplant to Portland from Seoul, South Korea. While her husband worked at Oregon Health & Science University as a visiting dentistry professor, Park sought to acclimate to her new home. Part of this process included enrolling at PCC in January 2014 for English language training so she could better communicate with the locals.
“When I came here last year, I had difficulties with communicating with people in my neighborhood,” Park remembered. “When I needed something, or went to the grocery store, my heart started racing as I tried to find the right expressions. I was not comfortable speaking English. ‘What can I do?’ I thought.”
In the ESOL Program at the college’s Sylvania Campus, Park quickly made strides in her English speaking and found plenty of friends. One of those friends tipped off art instructor Mark Smith, who serves as the North View Art Gallery director, that Park was an internationally known painter and respected art professor.
“For a very long time I had worked as a teacher,” Park confessed. “When I came here I returned as a student. It was a very, very fresh experience.”
It turns out that Park is an active artist who has a doctorate in Art Education and a master’s degree in Painting from Seoul National University, where she taught from 2011-13. Her work has been widely exhibited internationally at venues including the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Kongresshaus in Zurich, Qingdao Sculpture Art Museum in China and the Korean Cultural Center in New Delhi. She has work within collections in the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Museum of Art at Seoul National University and the Kyung-Hee University Art Museum, all located in Seoul.You could say Smith was intrigued by this particular PCC student.
“We were incredibly lucky that Soyoung was actually here with her family, her studio and materials so that she could have a show,” Smith said.“She is an accomplished international artist with an impressive exhibition record. I’m just thrilled.”
That is how Park’s “Walking in the Clouds” art exhibit was born. Her show, on display right now at the North View Art Gallery through March 21, is focused on her encounters with Oregon’s variable weather and colorful landscape. She will host an artist talk and demonstration at 11 a.m., Wednesday, March 4 in Room 230, CT Building). This is Park’s second solo exhibition in the US after having an exhibition in Los Angeles last summer that made headlines in L.A.’s Korean newspapers.
Her willingness to produce an original exhibit at PCC was music to Smith’s ears. He depends on finding grants to fund special exhibits and has to deploy innovative tactics to artists from out of town. Having a visiting art professor already at the college and motivated to show off her craft, made the exhibition a no-brainer.
“It’s a great PCC story because you have this room full of students and you forget how specific and unique individual experiences are,” Smith said. “You might have someone who is retired from a really successful career in business studying alongside 18 year olds. You never know who is in your class and it’s just fascinating to hear stories like Soyoung’s.”
Park’s “Walking in the Clouds” will tell many stories. Inspired by the artist’s meandering outdoor walks, her paintings echo traditions of Korean folk art and landscapes. The works include iconic symbols from the “Four Gracious Plants,” which originated in Confucian philosophy and are now commonly used to represent the seasons in Korea. The paintings feature hand-ground inks and color pigments on absorbent Korean paper.
In addition, Park will present two traditional Korean folding books that feature panoramic paintings of Oregon landscapes. The sketchbook style is perfect for a movable viewpoint, versus the fixed point of view typical of Western works, Smith said. Park’s foldout books have sketches from her trips to Central Oregon’s Smith Rock and the Painted Hills. She will have it on display as a painting.
“My husband is always searching for a good place that has a good landscape,” Park said. “It’s important to me. Long time ago, Korean, Chinese and Japanese artists would bring this book when they travel. At some good place, they would sit down, spread this book and draw on it. It’s portable and convenient.”