Mari Kim is a Korean artist who uses the language of Manga, Disney and Pop-Art to make her glossily realised paintings. Her images derive from a rich mixture of Western and Eastern cultural references. She produces pieces which explicitly reflect a pop sensibility and aesthetic back at her audience.
She trained as an animator in Australia before moving back to Korea and embarking on a successful career as a video director. This is where she developed her signature ‘Eyedoll’ characters. These distinctive images became the protagonists of her painting project.
The ‘Big Eye Doll’ archetype embodies a wide gallery of female subjects. These range from teenage girls to a variety of well known characters, both real and fictional, including The Queen, Margaret Thatcher, Angelina Jolie, Snow White and Cat Woman. These are depicted in a richly coloured, decorative, graphic manner. Sometimes the background is covered in text, rendered in the highly stylised forms of graffiti.
These lush and jewelled images, the graphic handling emphasising their flatness, have the lustre of ‘bright and shiny’ consumables lined up in a department store display case for our delectation. They speak of acquisitive desire and instant gratification. Their formula of production and the uniform treatment of the subjects, irrespective of their actuality, makes for a message of ‘the same, but different’, like the ranges of mobile phones or watches we see in the store. The pictures are a lure for a hungry eye.
Contrastingly, the artist has spoken about a sense of threat in her work, saying that she is interested in expressing the ‘twisted innocence’ of ‘evil kids in mass media’. On closer inspection, these images of women and girls carry some more sinister freight after all. The fact that this is concealed in such an attractive package makes it all the more startling.
If this is an artist for whom the surface is all, she has some interesting things to say about what that surface reveals to us.