Singaporean artist Howie Kim's kawaii pop-surrealism questions authenticity in the digital age
Looking at Singaporean artist Howie Kim's work, I begin feeling like Alice in Wonderland; tumbling down the rabbit hole to land in a fantastical landscape of exotic kewpie dolls, mythical axolotls, and pastel skies filled with adorable cherubs.
The lines between fantasy and reality are often blurred as well when these digital exaggerations take over the Lasalle graduate's mirror selfies.
He'll be presenting and helping participants replicate his undeniably amusing and 'kewt' aesthetic at his Today at Apple session this weekend at Apple Orchard Road. I caught up with him in advance to find out more about his obsessions with the early 2000s and the life of pop icon Britney Spears.
Let's start by talking about your Today at Apple workshop that's happening this weekend at Apple Orchard Road. What do you have planned for the workshop?
I'll be starting with a presentation about my works before kicking off about an hour-long workshop helping participants turn their selfies into one of my signature surreal selfies. We'll be using the iPad, Apple Pencil, and Procreate.
Sounds great! When did you first decide to pursue art?
I've always liked creating things, but I didn't really think of pursuing art as a career, because in Singapore there's always this idea that artists don't make money. When I wanted to go to Lasalle College of the Arts, I remember telling my grandfather and he was asking why I wanted to go to Lasalle, and that I should pursue something like engineering instead. It's just something that I liked doing, and I took a risk to see what happens.
You've got a very distinct style. Was that something that was crafted while you were at Lasalle?
It came from a few different things. One main point of inspiration was a doll that my friend gave me when I was around 14. It's called "Living Dead Doll". It even came with a coffin and death certificate. It was dark, morbid, and very creepy, but at the same time, its big head was very cute.
In your artist statement, you mentioned that your work revolves around the millennial generation. It's a very loaded term that has both positive and negative connotations. How would you describe the generation?
To simply put it, it's just a geneartion of people that were born in a certain time period. They will also have access to technology. I like to think of it more as a lifestyle or attitude. I was born in 1990, so I was part of the generation that watched the Internet grow.
How do you feel about the notion that your work reinforces the superficiality of this generation?
What's wrong with being superficial when we are not harming anyone else? It's entertainment and that's all that matters. Don't take it too seriously. When I was at Lasalle, I thought hard about what I wanted to do. Topics like feminism and climate change were trending at that point, but I just wanted to enjoy make things that were entertaining.
What's your relationship with pop culture?
A lot of my pop culture references come from a specific period of time, usually the early to mid 2000s. It's probably because at that point, I would go on TMZ once I got home from school. Paris Hilton and Britney are just a couple of the celebrities featured in my work. I will admit that Britney is probably not as relevant anymore, but I feel that she's an icon. Lana Del Rey is also inspiring me at the moment.
How would you describe the little characters in your work?
I'm very interested in what's real in this digital age. What is authentic when we live in a world of filters and Photoshop? In a lot of my works, I tend to exaggerate the elements to an extend that's so fake, it becomes real. American model Amanda Lepore is a perfect example of that aesthetic. When something is so over-the-top, it's not fake anymore.
Who are your artistic influences?
The first artist I really liked was American pop-surrealist Mak Ryden. I also like American artist Cindy Sherman because she works with self-portraits as well. I always cite Britney as an artist reference, but people tend to take me very lightly when I say that. The 1973 movie The Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky is also very inspiring.
What's an unrealised project that you wish to accomplish in the future?
I've always wanted to work with film. A feature-length film with visuals in my style would be appealing. I would love to pick out the cast as well. I can already imagine Britney as an oriental empress.
Do you have any tips for art school students?
Art school doesn't teach you the business side of being an artist. Sometimes, in school, you get pushed to do something that you may not fully enjoy. I would say that you should always just stick to what you want to do. You should listen to criticism, but it's important to be true to yourself. It's very cliché but it's true. You should always make works for yourself and not to please others; you have to be selfish.
Are your works for sale?
Yes, buyers can drop me an email to find out more.
Head over to Howie Kim's website for more information. Howie Kim's Today at Apple session, 'Art Lab: Surreal Selfies', takes place at 4pm on 6 October at Apple Orchard Road.
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