Minji Seo’s surreal artworks are founded on tenderness for other human beings

The Korean artist talks us through her expressive painting practice and how she keeps challenging herself with different compositions.

7 February 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read


When Minji Seo was young, she liked to play alone, with paper dolls she made by hand. It sparked a creative interest to make things, something she continues to do to this day but through illustration and painting. Now, she expresses herself through figurative paintings. “I use body movements, facial expressions, tears, hands and so on to describe the complex emotions I feel vaguely,” she tells us.

Surreal with a hint of otherworldliness, the Korean artist’s work is most recognisable for its smudgy-faced characters and unshapely heads. Her distinct paintings are deeply human, the emotion is rife in each character and the viewer is presented with a sense of sadness, excitement and calmness in several cases. “Recently, I’ve been trying to make my pictures without people in them because I want to expand my compositional areas,” says Minji. Her artworks go back and forth between intimate crops and wider compositions. Some are eery in their isolation, others are thriving with a buzz of activity.

She talks us through three recent artworks, the first being the sweetly titled I wish I had a puppy. “I often think that love for pets is the purest,” she says on the artwork, “So I wanted to draw a pet and not a human who shares love with a lonely person.” Minji painted it around Christmas time, a fitting concept for the time of year that only enhances the wishful fervour of the work. The puppy depicted is also a nod to the dog Minji had as a child, a kind of “dedication” to her dog friend Mina. “It looks like a simple painting, but actually, it was painted with a lot of mixed emotions,” she goes on to say.


Minji Seo

In other work, she captures a snowball fight in a painting which marks Minji’s busiest composition yet. She noticed that, in her existing portfolio of work, she’d only worked with three people or less. Feeling like her visual rhythms were getting repetitive, the artist-cum illustrator wanted to challenge herself to paint something different. “I had this desire to paint a crowded scene gathering in a particular place,” she goes on. Containing the energy of her other works into this busy canvas, she came up with the subject of a snowball fight to embody a myriad of people in this recent painting.

Though some people (including Minji’s family) think her characters are ghostly. In the artist’s eyes, they are the opposite. “I see them as soft and that they need to be cared for,” she adds. She hopes the viewer feels warm or consoled by looking at her artworks as each painting stems from a feeling of love for other human beings. There’s a rough idea of what she wants to put down on the canvas, but more often than not, the painting ends up to look completely different than her original vision.

She lets her brush improvise freely and her imagination take over, taking as much time as she needs to feel satisfied with the finished artwork. Gradually building up the image, layer by layer, Minji’s airy paintings eventually come together. They’re mysterious and emotionally ambiguous, and she asks the viewer to be open to all manner of interpretations of the work, as whatever we feel when we look at her work is equally as valid as her intention.

GalleryMinji Seo

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.


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