There’s a prevailing theme of surrealism running throughout the work of Seoul-based illustrator Miki Kim. Recognisable shapes – like faces, eyes, flowers and eggs – are morphed and twisted, then sprinkled with a signature dose of wackiness. In one image, for example, you see a subject clipping their painted toenails, while a couple of rats feast on the offcuts below. Another sees a smartphone placed on the subject’s face, while someone else in the scene presses her eye as if they were touching a button. There are many other scenes of this ilk featuring wilted roses, anthropomorphic plants that are given long and spindly fingers, or a pair of eyes leaking with the waves from the sea.
Miki’s work is bizarre but undeniably transfixing. It’s a style that’s she’s been perfecting for years, and when she’s not working on her spellbinding illustrations, she’s working up a new tattoo design – another arm of her all-consuming and inimitable creations. “I didn’t take private lessons or major in art,” she tells It’s Nice That. But ever since she was little, she consumed everything she possibly could in the world of cartoons. “When I was a teenager, I used to collect monthly comics. I think my illustration is the result of watching cartoons and drawing a lot.”
The make-shift and fantastical world of cartoons has most certainly had an impact on her work for it’s a place devoid of realism – and in some ways, where it is frowned upon. In the realm of cartoons, you can quite literally make anything, the world is your playground and the formats, characters, narratives and scenes don’t really need to make sense. When devising an idea for one of her pieces, she often draws from her emotions or from something that she’s experienced. This gives a natural flow to her creations, as she’ll either be drawing from memory or from a spooky source. “And when I look at an object,” she adds, “I find another image of it. I think about it by zooming in and twisting it, and then the object can be something else.” She also spends much of her time absorbing the inspirations found from videos and films, which gives her work an element of theatricality.
Working on an iPad, Miki’s works are chiefly digital. First, she will create a sketch to work out her compositions and figures, before transferring the completed idea onto the tablet. Working in this manner, in some ways, leaves welcomed room for mistakes and experimentation. The digital process compliments her wild imagination, meaning that she can nurture her thoughts without the limits that might come with, say, working with paint.
Resultantly, the work at hand is both vividly imaginative and also riddled with meaning. She points out one image in particular; that of a flip phone with a subject’s face placed on the screen. The detailed scene of painted nails and pinky hues comes paired with a gradient backdrop, all of which is executed in characteristically Miki fashion. In this piece, she’s questioning the current state of the world in the context of technology. “I wanted to capture the critical aspects of modern society,” she explains. “As society changes, people spend more time in front of computers and looking at smartphones.” Another example of this theme can be seen in a second drawing where a pink-haired lady dons a square-shaped face. Although there are no smartphones per se in these pictures, both raise questions about society’s addiction to tech. “I wanted to paint people trapped on square screens; I also wanted to show that what you see on a square screen is not real,” she adds.
In another image, Miki draws a series of women pulling each other’s ponytails in a circular motion; a chain reaction of sorts. The facial expressions give off the idea that they probably aren’t enjoying themselves. “I wanted to express a lack of consideration for others as society has become competitive and the virus has made people think of only themselves,” she says, citing the “If you hurt me, I have to hurt you – and I’ll win” mentality. “It turns, turns, turns and returns to itself. We have to continue this fight.”
Maybe it comes as a surprise that Miki’s surrealist creations have more to say than just being freakish images. Or maybe you’ve picked up on the messages that are entwined amongst her offbeat and detailed scenes. Well, Miki’s ethos as an illustrator is to simply create work for fun and to then upload the piece online without any explanation “because I want people to see the picture and interpret it on their own,” she adds. “Originally, there is a message I want to convey, but it also fun for people to interpret.”
GalleryMiki Kim (Copyright © Miki Kim, 2021)
Miki Kim (Copyright © Miki Kim, 2021)
About the Author
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.