Kim Hyunji recently wrapped up her solo exhibition at Melbourne’s Backwoods Gallery. The Korean-born, Melbourne-based artist’s work explores how technology has helped and hindered the way we perceive ourselves in the 21st century. We caught up with Kim in her Brunswick studio to discuss portraits, selfies, Seoul, and the pressures of traditional ideas of beauty.
Have you always painted?
My mum and grandparents are artists so I was always drawing or painting. I wasn’t particularly talented, but I was always encouraged. I grew up surrounded by books and art—it certainly influenced the way I look at life.
You grew up in Seoul before moving to Australia. Did you notice a change in your style or subject matter?
I definitely noticed a change in my style over the last couple of years. Whenever I move cities I’m at a different stage in my work and life. My subject matter is also constantly changing, but I’m always concerned with the difficulties facing our generation. We’re living in a very different environment now. It definitely affects the way we view ourselves and our relationships. I think this has made our generation more vulnerable. Right now, I’m focusing on the anxieties and inner conflicts we face as a result of the digital spaces we occupy.
How do you view Western notions of beauty?
In South Korea, 20 percent of women have had cosmetic work done. I witnessed a lot of my friends getting eyelid surgery while I was still in high school. The pressure Korean women have to deal with to fit into beauty standards is fucking crazy. We have this standard of beauty in Korea that’s heavily influenced by white beauty standards and Western media.
Why did you become interested in portraiture?
I started doing portraits when I moved to Australia. I painted my friends as a way to practice and improve my technical painting skills. I was influenced by Australia’s multiculturalism and diversity (a far cry from Korea’s single-nation mindset). In a human portrait, even the smallest brush stroke can change the whole feeling of a painting. It’s so challenging trying to convey the inner feelings of an individual. That’s what I love about it.
What are your views on selfie culture?
Humans have always been self-obsessed—it’s just in our nature. Even history’s masterpieces can be seen as a kind of selfie. I think there’s nothing wrong with being self-obsessed and revealing this in a safe way with others. It can aid our self-esteem or be a means to explore one’s ego. Selfies are really the most accessible form of art in contemporary culture, and many artists have been using it as a topic for their work. I do personally enjoy looking at other people’s selfies on social media—some of them are masterpieces. Like anything though, it can get our out of hand, but I don’t think the concept itself is dangerous.
I’ve been applying for exhibition opportunities at galleries around Melbourne and Sydney, so fingers crossed! I’m also looking for residencies in Europe so I can discover different art scenes and meet more people.