Kim Joon is a Korean artist who creates fabricated renditions of “tattooed” bodies. These images show body parts, often transfigured and occasionally unrecognizable, covered in beautifully designed tattoo work that Kim has created.
Kim Joon’s father never wanted him to become an artist. In fact he expressly opposed his sons decision to attend Hongik University, an institute known for its exceptional arts education. In defiance, Kim Joon went to university and studied art and, after a stint in the military, became one of Korea’s most renowned visual artists. There would go on to be an element of this story, a sense of rebellion and subversion, in the rest of his career.
Kim’s work involves making digital images of bodies and draping them in luxurious and exotic tattoos. The painstakingly in-depth process involves using cutting edge animation software to render the body shapes he wants in his work. Then he goes on to graft a variety of textures to the 3D images to create the image. The powerful images he creates are not just aesthetically stunning but can also be emotionally moving too.
While his work is predominantly digital print based, he has worked in the field of sculpture creating latex portions of flesh that he applies his textured designs to.
There’s a sense of psychedelia apparent in Kim Joon’s work. This isn’t surprising considering he counts the work of Jimi Hendrix as a major influence and describes Hendrix as a “personal hero”.
What is arguably more striking is the sexual nature of his work. The bodies, whether ugly or beautiful, idealized or naturalistic, have a real sense of eroticism. Kim says that that this erotic aspect of his work was not intentional but rather a result of the sensual nature of working with images of nude bodies.
One thing that interests Kim about the world of tattoo art is the permanence of it. The sense that one has expressed something they can no longer negate. “Tattoos are an inscription, a kind of mark that cannot be erased, cause it’s a scar.”
Another aspect seems to be the rebellious side of tattoos. In South Korea, tattoos lie in a legal grey area where they are neither permitted nor forbid. Legal or not, they’re not considered completely socially acceptable in Korea or many other parts of the world. There’s a sense in which this defiance of collective norms in Korea exhibits a kind of passion in an individual. A desire to express something regardless of the consequences.
Kim’s instinctual outsider mentality was nurtured during his mandatory military service. Most Korean men are required to join the regular army for a period of 3 years but some men who don’t qualify for this join an alternative service. This may include people with bad eyesight, lower level weight conditions or people with tattoos covering large parts of their body. In this “reject” army, Kim Joon would practice tattooing on his fellow servicemen, as well as developing his outsider identity.
While his work is celebratory of the institution of tattooing, this celebration can often be of the negative aspects of the form. Kim Joon points out that while they can often make us beautiful, they can also make us seem ugly and that this makes it more interesting. He also points out that, historically, tattoos have been used to create inclusion and decoration but have also been used as a punishment to mark out those who are deemed abject to their peers. It’s the duplicity in meaning that attracts Kim to this world.
Tattoo art is not just about the physical for Kim, who sees the act as a signifier of psychological and spiritual impressions. His work acts as a reflection of society’s weakness for material objects and physical attachments. It’s this ability to read into the symbolism behind tattoos that Kim Joon carries throughout his work.
By Jamie Finn (@jamiefinn2209)
You may also be interested in: