Howie Kim’s wonderfully surreal self-portraits possess a wow-factor like no other with their glossy enlarged heads and strange dreamlike scenes. On his Instagram account, the Singapore-based artist has accrued over 200k followers who all want a piece of his mind-boggling artistry where practically anything is possible. He captures himself on a glittery swamp riding a giant axolotl while in another video, he replicates two versions of himself with wiggling antennas and six insect-like legs and places the smaller Howie on the back of the bigger Howie’s. Yes, we know – amazing.
Starting his career as a painter, Howie decided to pursue the arts at 23 when he enrolled himself on a fine art diploma. Gradually, he began experimenting with digital media, incorporating digital illustrations, gifs and animations into his gleaming body of work. Now having established an original aesthetic that feels uniquely his own, Howie’s digital artworks have incurred the interest of a number of commercial clients, from club night posters to magazine editorials.
“My aesthetic has always been informed by my interests,” says Howie, “I’ve always liked things that are a little different.” Citing the kitsch, bizarre and fantasy as influences (three terms that very happily encompass Howie’s aesthetic), the artist is drawn to creating visuals that are “mysterious, creepy and cute” all at the same time. When he was 14, a friend gave him a “creepy collectible toy doll”, a Living Dead Doll which Howie says is the reason for his “strange and sometimes even disturbing” artworks. Adding a dollop of contemporary internet culture, his personal work also hints to our obsession with social media, pop culture and fame.
He plays with the voyeurism of celebrity culture, both poking fun and inciting awe with his digital self-portraits. “It’s like you know them, but do you really?” he says of the nuanced atmosphere evoked through the work. Above all however, for Howie, the most important part of his creative process is enjoyment. Not taking his practice too seriously, Howie’s fantastical narratives come to life through visual elements which can only be described, in short, as magical. “I like to think of the digital as some kind of infinite world containing endless data,” he tells It’s Nice That, “and I use the medium as a playground for me to enter these fantasy worlds where anything and everything is possible. I guess it’s a form of escapism or role-playing.”
His ideas predominantly arise from spontaneous bursts of creativity. No matter what the time or place, Howie can take any kind of situation and transform it internally into something entirely new. In one artwork for example, he transforms a childhood class photo into a fairytale landscape where all his classmates are Disney villains in a rose covered forest. “Honestly sometimes I don’t think about it too conceptually, I just want to make something that is fun and entertaining. People don’t necessarily need to ‘get it’. I think of it like us living in the age of memes, sometimes we scroll through social media and see a meme, like it and move on.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.