Artist Mari Kim: 2NE1 and beyond

November 10, 2014
mari kim

Fans of 2NE1 will recognize Mari Kim’s “Eyedoll” artwork from the K-pop group’s anime-style music video, “Hate You.” (Courtesy of Mari Kim)

Mari Kim

Mari Kim captured icons CL, Dara, Bom and Minzy in cartoon likenesses to a perfect T, including on their album cover. (Courtesy of Mari Kim)

By Julie Carlson

In 2011, the CEO of YG Entertainment happened to come across a few of Mari Kim’s paintings during an art exhibition. The events that followed would launch her name into the same conversation as the iconic K-pop girl group, 2NE1.

After purchasing a few of her pieces, he contacted Kim to discuss a potential collaboration with some of the artists under his company’s management.

The conversation materialized into a 2NE1 music video titled “Hate You,” a chart-topping single that amassed over 20 million YouTube views.

“2NE1 loved what they became in the music video I directed,” Kim says. “I made them into the action heroines in that [project].”

Through violent depictions of innocent looking characters, Kim had achieved the bubble-gum-pop-with-edge aesthetic 2NE1 portrays.

Despite her successful foray into mainstream art, she constantly strives to challenge her audience.

“To create a new thing, I have to think forward, searching for a new concept or technique. I like creating…for limited audiences or art lovers,” Kim says. “A lot of people call [my art] ‘Pop Art.’ I agree with the idea but I would like to keep my art pieces as mysterious as possible. I would say my artwork is the surreal pop art.”

Her talent and passion are quite apparent now at 37, but when she was younger, Kim didn’t consider a potential lifelong career in art.

Born in Busan, her family often moved around due to the nature of her father’s job. As a result, she couldn’t develop many close relationships outside of her family. She enjoyed spending time with her younger brother and found solace in her passion for art. During this time, she picked up her crayons and got to work, drawing everything and anything.

“I didn’t like to see loose colorings in my sketchbook,” Kim recalls. “I always liked to finish my drawings with dense colorings.”

This approach and the use of kaleidoscope color are techniques that eventually made their way into her more recent works.

Kim’s family had a keen eye towards artistic outlets such as photography, sketching and embroidery, but her parents’ wish was for her to pursue a career in medicine or law.

Kim, herself, wasn’t sure her drawings and skills were up to par to become a professional artist either. However, the more time she put into her artistry, the deeper her need for an artistic outlet grew.

Eventually, her passion for that creativity led her to the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia — a university known for its global excellence in art and science.

(Instagram screen capture)

(Instagram screen capture)

Like many fresh-faced college students, Kim became ambivalent when it came to choosing a field of study especially with thoughts of her parents not supporting her as an artist. Then an opportunity presented itself when she found a course using visual arts through computers. It was not only a career that could incorporate her love of art, but would also satisfy the expectations of her family.

“Of course, [my parents] are proud,” Kim says.

She earned a Master’s Degree in Creative Media, which afforded her the opportunity to specialize in digital arts.

As her talent developed, her love for Australia grew as well and Kim ended up staying for about a decade.

“I just loved everything about Melbourne, as you can easily imagine,” Kim says. “Melbourne is voted the world’s best city to live in.”

Kim has since returned to her homeland, settling in Seoul. However, she misses the slow times in Melbourne compared to Korea’s fast-paced lifestyle.

“I didn’t think the art scene in Australia was as big as it is in Europe and the USA,” Kim explains. “But I barely knew about those places. I think London is a cool city, but I am not sure if I could bare the gloominess coming from its weather. I came back to Korea because I wanted to be somewhere familiar but closer to those places.”

As for her artistic influences, you may find her artwork endearing at first glance with its bright femininity and manga flair, but as it turns out, her source of inspiration comes from a much darker place — American horror films.

“I have a disturbing series of work, too, such as my masters’ course [project] which was titled ‘Twisted Innocence — Enfant Terrible,’ “ Kim says.

She goes on to explain, “My study was about evil kids appearing in modern culture. I found a lot of evil children have appeared in 1980’s cinema since the movie ‘The Exorcist.’” Some of her favorite films include “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Saw” and “Drag Me To Hell.”

Instead of hiding under the covers while watching these films, she reaches for her sketchbook and paints, creating characters with hypnotic faces and a deceptive innocence.

Next on the horizon for Kim is a feature-length film, but she isn’t interested in going the blockbuster animation route. Instead, she might draw on her love for the horror-genre.

Kim has held exhibitions all over the world, including Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, Miami, New York and currently has a solo exhibition in London titled “Synchronicity.” She hopes she can eventually take her talents to Los Angeles.

“I think LA…would love my show,” Kim says with excitement.

Aside from art and traveling, Kim works as a lecturer at the Catholic University in Seoul and as an adjunct professor at Chungkang College of Cultural Industries in Incheon. Even though she doesn’t see herself as a teacher, she enjoys educating and passing on what she’s discovered as an artist.


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