To say that visual artist Howie Kim, 29, is an alchemist for these strange times might not be a stretch. If you’re not yet familiar with his work, check out his Instagram page (@howie759) where 147K followers avidly consume his Dali-esque dreamscapes filled with axolotls, Disney fairy-tale characters, Teletubbies, pop culture queens (Britney, Paris, Lindsay and Lindsay as Cady Heron, of course) and most importantly, lots of Howie Kim.
Howie Kim as a Gachapon machine, as the biblical Tree of knowledge of good and evil, as a wholly new amphibian species, a scorpion, a cherub. Why the seeming obsession with himself at the centre of his art? “I often like to celebrate the common stereotypes and perceptions of millennials, one of which is narcissism,” he explains. “Apart from that, I think of using myself as an avatar of sorts in my works, playing different roles and characters for a world that I create. It’s fun. It’s like playing dress up – just digitally.”
“I often like to celebrate the common stereotypes and perceptions of millennials, one of which is narcissism.” – Howie Kim
Is it a brilliantly rendered take on pop culture commentary? The boyish Kim shrugs it off. “Any expression can be a form of art. I like to use my art to answer questions such as ‘What is my favourite animal?’”. (The answer, dear reader, is the snake. He’s had a thing for animals, especially reptiles, since young and even brought a gold Tyrannosaurus Rex toy model to a previous shoot with this magazine to use as a prop. His dream? To be a zookeeper.)
This almost child-like whimsy, coupled with his uncanny ability to take elements of what’s “real”, juxtapose them with seemingly random pop cultural imagery then magick them all up with fantastical proportions to great psychedelic effect is what makes his work undeniably Howie Kim. That the results hit right smack at the intersection of pop culture, millennia nostalgia and social media also makes him an artist made for these times. So what exactly is it like to live in – and build – his startling, surreal universes?
This article first appeared in the June 2020 Collaboration Issue of FEMALE.