Kim Joon’s Digital Still Lifes Grapple with Human Desire

In digital collages, Korean artist Kim Joon plays with the human body to create complex, allegorical still lifes. Kim layers images, often of porcelain figures or bodies covered in complex tattoo patterns, applying numerous cultural references onto each form. The resulting pictures range from erotic to tragic.

To create his works, Kim employs digital modeling software—he’s been known to use the program 3D Studio Max—to manipulate, multiply, contort, cut, and color fragments of the human form. A new show at Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s Hong Kong location assembles a selection of the artist’s works from the past few years, homing in on the ways he employs and applies tattoo imagery.


The metaphors that Kim develops in his images can vary from dark to sensual. “After college . . . I was often distressed with the matters related to a body,” Kim has said. “For example, hunger, survival, and sexual desire [all come] from my body. [Those] are all quite basic yet fundamental issues.” The pairing of food and the erotic human form is a recurring element in much of his work, such as in Fragile–Adam & Eve (2011) and Moet Chandon (2011). The latter depicts scattered turquoise limbs and bodies printed with Moët & Chandon’s logo. The torsos, arms, and feet—which are hollow, resembling vessels—rest on a similarly colored tablecloth embossed with a pattern reminiscent of both Baroque adornment and Hokusai-like woodblock prints. Clusters of green grapes nod to the Greek god Bacchus; the scene evokes a sense of twisted, self-indulgent pleasure.

In a darker image, Blue Jean Blues – O Yun (2012), Kim employs black and crimson to induce tension. This still life includes an assault rifle, two bowls, and a severed arm, which at first glance appears to be smeared with blood, but closer inspection reveals bold tattooed images in shiny ink. The black drawings that form the background and surface on which these objects sit, are rendered with what appear to be splattered, gestural marks, but are actually traditional Asian motifs like hibiscus flowers, spindly trees, reeds, and birds. The titular pair of blue jeans stands upright on a decorative plate, a nexus of desire and commerce and a witness to the work’s suggestions of violence.


A more lighthearted work, Rocker – Kiss (2012) is an image of a white, tattooed sculptural hand resting on a glossy, ornate black-and-white dish. The hand, adorned with black nail polish, approximates a heavy-metal salute, with complementary imagery from the hard rock band KISS—including their logo, a group portrait of the band, and an image of bassist Gene Simmons sticking out his infamously long tongue—etched into its surface.

Many of Kim’s images exude sensuality, such as Drunken – Gone With the Wind (2011), dappled equally with floral imagery and nude female figures, or Ebony-Tiger (2013), with two (or more) muscular male nudes grasping one another, imprinted with gold tiger-stripe patterns. Kim’s works are, despite their arousing imagery, thoughtful and reserved. They look at the body inside and out, albeit through surrogates, to consider what drives it and how best to depict those urges.


—Stephen Dillon


Kim Joon” is on view at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, Hong Kong, May 14–Jun. 28, 2015.


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