Korean artist Mari Kim’s paintings are highly-stylised images of glamour and artifice. Her female protagonists inhabit a world of sumptuous colour and elaborately decorated surface. Indebted to the graphic formats of Manga and Anime, the artist introduces several European sources of inspiration new to her work. These compositions pay homage to Toulouse-Lautrec, the Art Nouveau of Alphonse Mucha and the Art Deco of Erté.
Kim’s female subjects are huge-eyed and doll-like. Dressed in period costume, their clothes are meticulously described. Elegant and sinuous line defines contours and boundaries. These are rigorously graphic representations, assemblages of print, paint and mixed-media, flatly rendered, with no evidence of brush mark or hand. Distanced and perfect, they speak of a controlled and idealised world, where the artist makes playful re- imaginings of characters from art history.
Her subjects are avatars, possibly self-portraits, embodiments of her concept of female power. Seductive and expressive, they are sanitised versions of something originally highly charged. The Belle Epoque femme fatale is raised up to a position where she looks the viewer unashamedly straight in the eye. They are transformed into something unambiguously ‘cute’, living in an indeterminate zone where the body is reduced to a cipher and corporeality denied. They are suspended in a dream space beyond mortality.
The artist is constantly manipulating and re-making identity. Her slickly realised images express plasticity, an idea of endless mutability, where the subject skips seamlessly from one costume to another and from one era to another. These pictures are humorous - there is a certain knowingness and tongue-in-cheek quality about her bold appropriations. History, the body and its death are discounted. We see Kim’s avatar adopting and discarding personas in cyberspace. She is her own muse, in multiple guises and in the process, perhaps, of becoming ‘immortal’.