In the same conversation, John Park can go from effortlessly describing the technique behind Michelangelo’s, The Creation of Adam, to identifying his biggest source of artistic inspiration, “ironically, as Instagram.” Park’s honesty about his journey, and his willingness to share the triumphs and the struggles, both demystifies and humanizes the creative process.
Park did not originally set out to become an artist. He was on the verge of joining the Marine Corps after high school, and a chance visit forever changed his course. “I never considered art a viable career. Thank God a family friend came over one night, and pointed me towards RISD.”
Fueled by the support and encouragement from his family, Park set out to the Rhode Island School of Design to pursue a degree in illustration.
Early on in school he discovered there were two divergent paths an artist could take – one centered on lifestyle and money and the other on mastery and fulfillment. Though Park stresses that one path is no better than the other, he found himself naturally drawn to the latter.
“I got very early exposure to Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, and it really inspired me to model my entire college education on what I gleaned from how they learned.”
After graduation Park moved to Santa Monica and began his 13-year career as a high school art teacher in the private sector. It was in this work that he found the two divergent paths of an artist (lifestyle vs. mastery) could coincide.
“During that time, I really started to develop my own work. I had a paycheck coming in, that was taking care of all of my needs. And so because of that, I was lucky enough to develop my artwork in a very objective way without having to worry about it feeding and sustaining me.”
In his last two years of teaching, Park felt the pull towards pursuing his art full time. “I remember thinking for the first time, I wish I didn't have to teach tomorrow because I would be neck deep in a project and trying to finish a painting and then realize, holy shit, it's three in the morning and I gotta get up in five and a half hours and teach.”
At this crossroads, “fate took over and it just so happened that the school ended up shutting down.” Park decided that “it's now or never” and took the leap to pursuing art full time.
Since 2012, he has worked on murals ranging from 1,000-20,000 square feet, and for clients from local LA restaurants to Nike. Despite the subject matter, Park’s signature clean and vivid style is evident in all of his murals.
In 2020, Park collaborated with Stray Angel Films and Beautify Earth to create an emotional, multi-part tribute mural to late actor Chadwick Boseman.
The following year he faced his most technically difficult projects yet. Park and his partner were tasked with covering over 20,000 square feet of murals on the inside of a Nike distribution center in Ontario, using the iconic font.
“The letters themselves were incredibly challenging because it's the Nike font, and they were looking for milla-metric precision. In the midst of the project I realized that the lower section of the largest wall was made of glass. A vinyl artist came in and put all of the letters on the windows, so I couldn't project the image and had to match all of my letters to the vinyl. Everything had to line up perfectly which meant that I had to just use a tape measure and a chalk line and basically measure everything in my head based on the mock up.”
Returning to his figurative drawing roots, Park got the opportunity to create a mural for the Cesar Chavez Foundation in 2021. Capturing the likeness of this iconic civil rights activist, in addition to more than a dozen other figures, proved extremely challenging.
“I had to spend seven whole days repainting Cesar and spinning my wheels, not understanding why I couldn't get his likeness. It took a week of 10-hour days trying to paint the face, realizing I'd failed again, taking a giant roller, covering it, and leaving dejected and in utter misery because I'd failed again.”
It turns out the problem had little to do with Park’s ability and everything to do with an oddly shaped room which forced him to put his projector at too steep an angle. This ensured that his initial outline was always misaligned from the photo reference he used while painting. In the end the solution was a grid.
“Anytime a project comes up that scares me, I make sure that I do it and don't shy away from it. Because I understand at this point in my life that when something is scaring you, then it contains valuable information, and the source of the fear. And within the source of that fear is some kind of answer. It unlocks something within you.”
A major setback within any project can easily send an artist into a spiral of self-doubt. Park’s method for navigating these moments centers on identifying the ego and the inner voice. “You have to be clear on that because otherwise you don't know which voice to listen to.”
“If I start to feel that dread, that feeling of failure. I don't have to get up. I don't have to do something else to get that out of my head. I can actually sit in the pocket of that discomfort and uncertainty, and I can work my way through it. And that's all a function of solving the voices, of really getting clear on what's my inner voice as opposed to what's my ego voice.”
This willingness to confront and tame the ego voice and answer the calling of his inner voice is the reward of doing the hard work of confronting childhood trauma, tapping into the power of self-talk, and employing mindfulness practices. He also credits Julie, his partner in both work and life, for helping nurture healthier behaviors and building a strong business.
“Before Julie joined me, these were areas of my business that I was completely neglecting. I just wasn't addressing them. I'm like, I don't care. I have another project. I was solely concentrating on the art. And because of that my business opportunities were definitely suffering.”
When it comes to the business of art, Park strongly recommends artists don’t try to go it alone.
“Be realistic about what you can handle and the things you can't handle, find the money and outsource it. Because it's going to be better than either ignoring it, or trying to do it yourself in a slapdash way, especially if it's something important, like taxes, or expenses. You don't have to do everything. And no one does it. No one does everything. The most successful people in the world have the most assistance.”
If Park could offer any assistance to young artists it would be to remind them that “art is the opposite of suffering. Art is human joy and human flourishment. Do you feel joy when you're pursuing this? Because the joy is the biggest payoff. You might not get the money. You might not get the fame. But if you work hard and you're skilled, you will get a tremendous amount of joy from your art.”
Though Park will tell you he owes much of his success to “just plain luck”, something tells us it has more to do with the way he’s brilliantly navigated the twists and turns in his life.
Favorite medium (other than mural painting): Paper or cardboard
Favorite color: Grey
Streaming or vinyl: Podcasts
Last place you traveled: US Virgin Islands
Favorite food: Korean BBQ
City or country: City
Early bird or Night owl: Night Owl
Favorite artist: Ron Muralist
Go-to karaoke song: Fake Plastic Trees
Road trip or fly: Fly
Dream project: Painting a mural at Google Headquarters
View John's work and hire him for your next mural project here.
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