Hannah Kim paints scenes from her past houses, an execution of memory, grief and joy

The Seoul-born and London-based artist moved house significantly in her past, which has now become the centre point to her alluring paintings.

16 April 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

Hannah Kim’s transition to the arts fell into place quite naturally. Born and raised in Seoul, and currently completing an MA at Royal College of Art in London, she raises a glass to her parents for having shown her what a viable (and enjoyable) creative career looks like. Both had met during their MA course studies, and both have worked as university art professors in South Korea. Her father studied tapestries and is currently retired; her mother studied fashion design and still teaches. “I remember the sounds and rhythms that I heard from my dad’s studio, even though I was really young – like five or six years’ old at the time,” Hannah tells It’s Nice That. “He made his work with a weaving machine and got me so excited to see loads of colourful threads turned into a fabric, with beautiful patterns and figures.” They’d create things together too, like sculptures made from thin papers, which been ingrained in the artist's mind as a collection of sweet memories.

Hannah’s surroundings have long been covered with art, where various mediums, techniques and outlets were laid out right in front of her during childhood. She’s also nurtured an interest in architecture growing up, and has observed a building’s brickwork, cracks on the wall or humorous text inscribed on its facade. “I’ve seen a warning sign on a wall that writes, ’Please respect our neighbours’ privacy’ at the terrace cafe in the Tate Modern,” she recalls. “There’s a fancy apartment with transparent curtains neighbouring Tate, so you can see residents having a cuppa or just chilling in their living room at the terrace. It seemed like the place where desires to be seen and to be invisible are coexisting.”

Through a compilation of oil pastels and acrylics – plus the occasional colour pigment – Hannah works in a spontaneous manner, adding in each and every flick of a brush with intuition. She never rough sketches, either, so the type of work she creates is a direct offshoot of what's been imagined in her mind. This is very much the case for her most recent body of work, a series of abstract and expressive paintings inspired by her own lived experience and memories – specifically the houses she grew up in.


Hannah Kim: A Cup of Salted Water for Sterilising Your Toothbrush, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 102x102 cm, 2021 (Copyright © Hannah Kim, 2021)

Her main muses are architecture and family and her recent pieces are mounted on familiarity, personal anecdotes and structuralism. Hannah’s never lived in a house for more than two or three years while living in Seoul, as her family had to relocate due to urban development and construction. “I guess I have to mention the unique house renting system in South Korea,” she says, where instead of paying monthly rent, you pay a lump-sum deposit when you move into the property. “Then a landlord could reinvest all this deposit to other estates or some buildings which seem to get higher value in the future during the contract. And you get all the despot back when you move out, so it feels like you can live in the property without paying any rent.”

In this sense, and when Hannah ponders on the word ‘nostalgia’, she tends to conjure up the many house numbers and postcodes of her past. She’s constantly referring to these memories, and thus transfers them into her artworks. Each and every painting tends to denote a specific space or room in the house: “It includes not only how it looked but also my feelings, thoughts and even some little happenings,” she explains, stylistically choosing a more chaotic medley of symbols, motifs and structures to tell these stories. “It doesn’t need to be lined up or arranged well because I know the memories of mine are essentially very inaccurate anyway.” By splashing marks and throwing in figures here and there, it’s a process she instills to make the pieces more visually interesting.

One of Hannah’s paintings tends to take around two to three days to complete, and certainly no more than a week. If it does reach this point, though, the work is in danger of becoming too hard to finish – for she may lose the rhythm or find it difficult to continue resurfacing the memory. A cup of Salted Water for Sterilising Your Toothbrush and Always Keep Clean Your Own Bedroom are two favourite pieces of hers, and both were made during February this year. The former features a black and white cat, addressing the bathroom in the flat she’s living in at the moment. The latter centres on her old house that she occupied around six years ago in Seoul. Both show symbolism to the memories that she bares in the spaces, like her dad boiling a kettle and making a cup of salted water to sterilise their toothbrushes on the sink in her bathroom.

“These memories basically make me feel joyous but also grieve me as well, because it’s about absence,” she says on a conclusive note about her work. “This is why I mostly rely on my own memories; my old houses have all vanished and it makes me feel like I’m working on something that’s disappeared, or will disappear in the future.”

GalleryCopyright © Hannah Kim


Always Keep Clean Your Own Bedroom, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 102x102 cm, 2021


Have You Seen My Keys with Green Wrist Strap?, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 102x102 cm, 2021


A Conversation with My Mum and Her Favourite Plants, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 102x102cm, 2021


Username 901, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 154x154 cm, 2020


A Pigeon Sitting on the Air Conditioner Ventilation, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 60x75 cm, 2021


He Just Said Ooh La La, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 102x102 cm, 2021


The Ceiling, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 100x100 cm, 2020


Don't Bother Him, Three Treats A day, That's All, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 102 x102cm, 2020

Become an Extra Nice Supporter

Unlock an inspiring new way to explore It’s Nice That, get your hands on exclusive perks, and help bring meaningful creative projects to life.

Sign up!

Hero Header

Hannah Kim: Please Keep This Door Closed after 10pm, Thanks, acrylic and oil pastel on canvas, 102 x102 cm, 2021 (Copyright © Hannah Kim, 2021)

Share Article

About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

It's Nice That Newsletters

Fancy a bit of It's Nice That in your inbox? Sign up to our newsletters and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the creative world.