The Guest by Henn Kim: A Fusion of Whimsy and Melancholy

Korean artist Henn Kim, with a cult following of more than 883,000 followers on Instagram

Some feelings are simply too much for words to express. It is often that melancholic minds turn to art when words aren’t enough. Such is the case for Korean artist Henn Kim, who at the age of 17 turned to art to express her deep feelings of sadness and listlessness brought about by her depression which she could no longer express with her own words. She expresses these feeling in her unique style of black and white lines using felt tip pens. Her works have engaged the heart and imaginations of many of her followers with themes of longing, heartache and love which so many of us can relate to.

Heal, Learn, Grow, Love by Henn Kim Source: Henn Kim (left).

If there is any word to describe Kim’s work it would be it is emotional. Her works express such rawness of feeling, whilst using a very minimalist aesthetic mixed with surrealist elements. Many of her works feature everyday objects, young women and couples and have an almost dream-like quality to them like in her piece ‘Heal, Learn, Grow, Love’. Kim uses many of her common motifs to create a piece that depict a couple lying on a book with a band-aid draped over them resembling a bed with the couple in an embrace. The piece speaks directly to the heart and tells a distinct story of a relationship that has been through turmoil and come out the other end and are healing, signified by the flowers in the top of the image. Kim’s works are so unique as she often represents a transitional point in the story of her work, a point where the pain is not all encompassing and the healing is not yet complete. There is a bitter sweet undertone that resonates through all her pieces. 


Black Hurts by Henn Kim. Source: Henn Kim (right)

In her work, one can definitely resonate with the turbulent and complicated feelings which Kim expresses in her signature black and white illustrations. Each work resonates with a viewer in a different way and Kim is able to connect with her viewer’s individual personal experience. Often through her pieces there are recurring motifs and images which are mirrored throughout her other works such as space, anatomical hearts, books and Band-Aids as evidenced in her work ‘Black Hurts’. It is to the effect of communicating a certain heartache, emotional turmoil and even a sense of hope and drive. This adds a hidden depth to her piece through the layering of details and motifs that change meaning the more you view it.

As of 2020 Lladró has collaborated with Henn Kim to create two unique additions to The Guest series. Both pieces show different aspects and elements of Kim’s unique aesthetic, with the smaller one incorporating the hearts, Band-Aids and florals she frequently uses in her pieces and the other using her space motif to create a large limited edition piece that is instantly recognisable as Kim’s work.

Henn Kim, The Guest - Large (left), limited to 250 numbered pieces and retired in 2022. Henn Kim, The Guest - small (right), numbered edition

The child-like quality of The Guest series complements the whimsical nature of Kim’s works and enhances many of the surrealist features she employs in her pieces. The smaller piece has two band-aids over the right eye and a flower over the left, potentially symbolising a desire to turn a blind eye to life’s misfortune, to heal, in order to protect a damaged heart. It shows that through the suffering and pain, life always flourishes.

It could be argued that the larger piece has a strong focus on escapism and evokes a desire to escape reality with space and planets imagery. The galaxy, stars and planets symbolise the vastness of our world, far beyond what we can visually see. As we move up the piece, we come to the face, showing a white background with a black void, partially covered by cloud it hints at a feeling of clarity and focus in a visual metaphor that draws the eye to it as a focal point of the piece.

When viewing Henn Kim’s art, there is an unmistakable feeling of melancholy and a sense of isolation in our modern world when she incorporates everyday items. Her works are highly personal and reflect what she herself was unable to express.

See more of the artisanal The Guest series:


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