Leo Park. Beyond Pleasure

26 Apr 2024 – 25 May 2024

Regular hours

10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00
10:00 – 18:00

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Carl Kostyál

London, United Kingdom

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Carl Kostyál is delighted to present ‘BEYOND PLEASURE’ by Swedish artist Leo Park. This is the artist’s debut exhibition with the gallery.

Sigmund Freud’s pain-pleasure principle suggests that our choices are conditioned by an effort to either avoid or decrease pain or to create or increase pleasure. In that regard, our skin and skeleton protect us from external pain, but our psyche doesn’t have a comparable shield for libidinal excitation. This is why, Freud claims, our instinct, libido, or life-drive, Eros, is in constant conflict with the death-drive, Thanatos. And looking at his ongoing practice that employs the ubiquitous art history genres such as nudes or bathers, genres often connected with desire and/or libido, Leo Park (Sweden, 1980) proposes looking Beyond Pleasure for his debut solo show with Carl Kostyál in London. 

The historic prominence of these tropes allowed Park to enter ongoing conversations and propose new ways to diversify them. Interested in developing his painterly language and focusing on the abstract qualities of the body, he developed peculiar tattooed crosses between figures and sculptures. By envisioning something that can be described as corpoabstraction or synthetic humanity, the Swedish artist is putting together a tongue-in-cheek homage to the tradition of the carnal subject matter. “I wanted to make figures to resemble humans, but didn’t want to follow every rule of human anatomy,” Park explains the extent and the importance of the stylization he’s employing. His refracted bodies metamorph into inanimate objects whose sharply defined, voluminous exterior is both erotic and desexualized. In order to liberate the imaginative and creative process and allow for a more conceptual approach to their devising, these glypthropes are observed as “sculptures with a nervous system.” Pushed further away from their sentient roots and the archetypal depiction of women as objects of pleasure, they are now merely a shell of a human, an object, a vessel. 

Park’s process begins with quick, decisive, impulsive drawing through which endless variations on the nude form are developed. Presented in a large cluster covering a whole section of the gallery space, these visual musings distill the raw creative energy through direct mark-making. From there, he takes a more conscious and purposeful approach where the sense of volume and depth is established through light play reminiscent of Anders Zorn’s portraiture and his infamous tonal ranges. By allowing the instinct and the reason to cooperate in such a manner, the visuals are removed from reality into the realm of painterly ubiquity and further toward the absurd and grotesque (3 copy, 2024). The most eye-catching features, such as lips and nipples, are epitomized through metaphors of luscious candy. Levitating above the figure, the surreal embellishments have an almost comic value to it, adding a sense of caricatured realism to otherwise heavily abstracted images. Simultaneously, the occasional ice cream motif (8 copy, 2024) suggests the existence of a narrative, a simple action within an otherwise static image. But besides its archetypal allusions, its cone is actually referencing the cornucopia, a classical symbol of abundance and nourishment. Where the original horn-shaped container is overflowing with produce and flowers, the more contemporary, leisurely version is dripping the delicious, refreshing, creamy dessert. A dessert that symbolizes delight and enjoyment, often implying sensuality or sexuality, but itself a delicate substance with a brief life span. And, just as every flower starts withering the moment it’s plucked, the ice cream melts from the moment it’s served, whimsically exemplifying the proximity of pleasure and pain. 

The impactful presence of the bather trope is affirmed by the weighty, solid structures, now taking up the entire image (1 copy, 4 copy, 7 copy, all 2024), somewhat nodding at Torsten Andersson’s two-dimensional exploration of three-dimensional objects. Barely fitting into the format of the canvas, they’re ornated with a fragmented mix of ancient and contemporary flat signs that function very differently than the painted, three-dimensional form on which they’re applied. By schematically adding them to the surface of the abstracted figure, this invented lexicon of symbols creates a visual break and interrupts them from looking like a clear continuation of established Modernist approaches. Not interested in recreating the tattoo aesthetics or meticulously depicting how they look on the skin, 

Park is merely mimicking the appearance of simple signs inspired by comics, graffiti, runes, ancient inscriptions, hieroglyphs, petroglyphs, logotypes, and any other flat, two-dimensional language. And while the original idea was to make them appear contemporary and up-to-date, the use of these plane marks pulled them further into an ancient past, creating a temporal ambiguity around them. 

The paintings comprising Beyond Pleasure explore new technical and formal shifts. The laid-out perspective and depth can only be articulated through painting and couldn’t be realized in three-dimensional space or captured in a photograph. A similar concept is used for the central motif, its tattoo-like embellishments, or how the elements of the natural surroundings are rendered, with Hirst or Pointillism-like spots depicting sand grains in an almost Pop Art-like way, for example. In the end, every aspect of the image is merely reminiscent of what’s represented rather than being a concrete depiction of it. This gives the work a contemporary twist, clashing the unpredictable, fleshy Cubist designs against the dots of solid pastel colors and a Neo-expressionistic, emotional, and expressive way of defining the dominant forms. All of this marks Park’s departure from the previously emphasized Modernist language and reveals interest in a looser, less human-like field where the traditional and spontaneous are colliding. To some extent, the canvas is used as an area of conflict with the irrational, random “accidents” of the gestural brushwork, adding to the tension by working against the planned passages. 

– Saša Bogojev 

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