Heesoo Kim’s first solo exhibition with Unit London explores our shared contemporary experience through portraiture. In what the artist defines as an “expression of the mundane”, Normal Life is an accumulation of everyday observations. Surrounded by a society that constantly grapples for recognition and success, Kim’s body of work subtly engages with the mild sense of insecurity that is engendered by an achievement driven world.
Having struggled with his own insecurities, Kim’s portraits act as a means to regain agency as the artist chooses to paint the stories of those around him, recording the feelings and emotions that connect us all. These portraits do not attach themselves to any specific sense of personhood; each figure, wiped clean of idiosyncrasies, could be anyone. Kim therefore encourages his viewers to project themselves onto his portraits, revelling in the conceivable meanings of our universal experience and presenting an ordinary that has the potential to be extraordinary.
Before he began to paint, Kim trained as a photographer. When he decided to move from photography to painting, he spent much of his time practicing alone. As an avid notetaker, the artist has long saved short snippets of writing that record his ordinary moments, keeping these collections in sketchbooks and journals. Kim’s paintings often unfold from the musings that float across the pages of his journals. Unexpected events will occur without exception. A singular obsession has narrowed the mind’s eye. These scribbled moments of self-reflection become the building blocks of Kim’s portraits in which unknown figures are immobilised and held as though through the lens of a camera. They often grasp everyday yet disquietingly incongruous items. With one eye sometimes closed tight and with hands sometimes pressed to their ears, these sitters seem to recall and then wince from the onset of an unwelcome thought. Insignificant things often hurt our emotions: another idea that creeps its way onto the pages of Kim’s journal.
Having long felt compelled towards portraiture, Kim has always wanted to paint people and visualise their everyday stories. By never attaching titles to his artworks, he keeps them as open as possible, liberating each piece from fixed interpretation: “I believe that it is in the artist’s karma to fill what is void, to make whole what is incomplete”. Ultimately, in their unabashed recognition of banality, Kim’s portraits encourage us to look both outwardly and inwardly, to search for the intrinsic value in our universal experience.