Interview with Esther Kim

Nishi Azabu’s “CALM & PUNK GALLERY” held an exhibition “I’m Pink and Blue for You” by an illustrator Esther Kim from Sept. 4 to Sept., 2015. Though she is now based in LA, Kim spent her teenage in Japan, which seemed to make her feel sentimental about this solo show of her own. “Esther Bunny”, an alter ego of herself, is very cute at a first glance, but in reality, it has many different expressions, even looking cool sometimes. The Girl Portrait Series, displayed along with “Esther Bunny”, also cast mature impressions somehow. The site was successfully packed with her fans throughout the period. Here is an interview with Esther on the exhibition and the works.

When were you interested in the illustration/illustrator?

I enjoyed drawing when I was a child. My grandmother would find sheets of blank paper for me to draw on. In elementary school I received some attention for my art but I didn’t understand that it was something I might be good at. When I moved to Japan in sixth grade the kids were so sophisticated and very good at
drawing so I thought that I had no talent for it and moved on. When I was in college I began to want to draw again. I felt like I wanted to express myself more fully and so I began drawing again.

Your illustration is close to fashion and also you love fashion.
When did you get into fashion?

I remember the first magazine I ever bought was at the airport when I was twelve years old. I’ve always loved fashion magazines and actually wanted to work at a magazine when I was younger. For me fashion is a personal expression of ideas, one’s interests, upbringing and what is going on in the society at large. I love the story it tells. Also it’s kind of a game to find things that suits oneself and expresses something.

Please tell me your favorite fashion brands!

Currently I really love Marques Almeida, Ashley Williams, and Jiwinaia.

In this exhibition, you showed both girls and esther bunny’s illustrations. I feel they seem to be changed a bit like growing up with you. What do you think this change?

In a way I’m very isolated as an artist. I didn’t go to art school. I live in LA and I don’t know other illustrators or many fashion people here. As strange as it sounds I didn’t know that I had to push in order to do more things that I want to do. This exhibition was a small step in pushing something more personal and different. My work is cute but I’m interested in something when it is a mix. Maybe it is 90% cool and 10% cute. If it is all cute I get a bit bored so I’m trying to change that perception of me to something more interesting and real to who I am.

As you said in the statement, bunnies are also a portrait of yourself. Bunnies have various of faces, but I saw sad faces a lot. Please tell me the story of bunnies illustrations.

I think all creative people have a bit of a melancholy side. I thought I was just a happy person but I took a personality test and was surprised to find I was melancholy but a friend who was with me said, oh, that’s normal. Creative people are very sensitive. So the bunnies are just more pure emotion: very funny or tired or happy or just staring at their phone.

Also I think it also show a bit more of my shy side. I think I can be very outgoing but I also have a very quiet reserved side that I think my bunnies capture. They are always looking sideways and their mouths are not really open or moving. They are quietly watching the situation, peeking. In some sense
a big part of my identity is being an outsider or foreigner always a bit different so I’m watching the situation. It’s hard for me to have a strong opinion sometimes because I can imagine the situation from many perspectives so I take a long time to process my thoughts…. I think without realizing the bunnies capture that side of me, too.

The portraits of girls express the variance of your upbringing. Were you inspired by your friend? OR fictitious girls?

I draw the girls from my head. They are fictitious girls but kind of idealized girls. I think that goes back to my love of fashion, seeing beautiful models in magazines all the time.

Have you ever felt some complex or dilemma for mixture values?

It’s kind of a constant struggle of ideas. I can’t give up any of them. People I get along with have totally different beliefs system from me. People I have same belief system with I often don’t get along with very easily. American types of communication is almost opposite of how I communicate with Japanese or Korean friends. I can react to a situation in so many different ways and often I don’t react in the way that people were expecting. But I received good advice to create a core version of my self that I can be no matter what culture I’m in. But still sometimes its tiring and I wish I was just one thing.

What do you think the same/different points of Japan compared with teenage years?

When I was a teenager I was very much in awe of Japanese creators and I felt very apart and far from them. It’s very humbling and so amazing to me to be able to work as a creator in Japan as a grown-up. I’m thankful to Japan as a culture that loves culture.

What types of works do you want to do from now?

I want to make more estherbunnies accessories and fashion items and I also want to do more gallery shows.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am in talks to work on some interesting projects and am working on personal projects as well.

Interview & Text by Yoshiko Kurata