the wild garden of the inner self
// artist and illustrator daniel kim
creates a piece for mixdfeelz.
we visit with him to discuss his work. //
as a teen, if i were asked to name a list of directors, i’d only have been able to name two: steven spielberg and hype williams. spielberg, a name i picked up from my immigrant parents who associated the wonders of then-american life with his adventure films; and hype williams, a name i discovered while i was still in search of an identity in my youth. daniel reminds me of this as he recalls growing up in tokyo as a third culture kid:
word. we used to set alarm clocks, mental or actual, to the exact time when a show would air– one used to be able to feel actual anticipation. this anticipation was even more heightened when it came to the countdown shows. you’d have to wait to see if a song or video you liked would even be shown. all to catch a few minutes of something you felt was special. back then, it was clear what one was drawn to because the effort had to be there to catch a show, a video, or song playing. nowadays that wonder is gone, replaced by excess banality, with so much being effortless to consume. maybe it’s not as big a deal as it seems; if you missed out on something, there’d always be something else to come along. but not so for artists. as teens we knew what we were waiting for, albeit unconsciously– something that would really capture the imagination. the energy of a specific wavelength. when we hit it, we just knew. it was something to pull us out of the boredom of everyday life and show us what the world could look like.
daniel reminisces fondly about when he used to have his weekly rap video ritual, especially when it came to hype williams videos. “those videos were and still are incredible pieces of art and lexicons for a culture. in a way i am trying to build my own vocabulary and describe my own world with my drawings. actually i think that is what mixdfeelz is trying to do as well.”
hype williams is just one of the many flowers in what daniel describes as the wild garden of his inner self, a concept he attributes to the french writer antoine de saint-expery. “ideas come from your ‘inner garden’ or inner world, whatever you want to call it, and the more diversity and depth you have in there, the more interesting your work will be. making my own art is like trying to cook up a meal with all the ingredients from the garden. often times the process is difficult and you want to pull your hair out. is this garden of the inner self actually wild? i don't know. but i like the idea of life spontaneously growing all over the place. i draw inspiration from that.”
daniel’s work harbors a secret that reveals itself in the hiding. he himself is hesitant to discuss his work, “it’s like a tea kettle, you have to leave the top on for the water to boil. you can’t let all the steam escape.” as this steam dissipates one is struck by the absence of a definite starting point, visual anchor, or logical origin from which one could identify an organizing principle in his work. the work resists formalization despite the presence of many semblances of forms waiting to be differentiated. colors and lines seem a happy coincidence, like chance encounters. like catching a hype williams video as the night counts down.
the non-hierarchical nature of his illustrations affect an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. nostalgia for a time when self-discovery was still an adventure, when a sense of ‘self’ was still imperceptible, and undifferentiated from one’s affections. when one could still move freely, unimpeded by the conventions and formalities of adult life. “i try to avoid being stagnant and generic with my drawings and in doing so i take an open ended approach with my work. i was actually thinking, it would be fun to have this drawing ‘evolve’…like what if this drawing transformed over time, if the colors kept changing, or everyone’s clothes disintegrated, the flowers wilted and hair just kept growing?”
one feels a strong sense of wabi-sabi from daniel’s work. not only are illustrations processes in-process, the style in which he puts concepts to ink resists mirror-like smoothness. there’s no such thing as pure reflections nor perfect imitations or duplications. every iteration of any given thing is unique in it’s own way. beauty is in this difference stemming from 'roughness', as daniel puts it. “it’s not that i don’t like clean drawings, i am just attracted to a rougher style in this season of my work. when i look at really polished work i think to myself, ‘wow that is incredible’. and then i see the drawings or rough drafts (no pun intended) done before and tend to like the ‘in progress’ works more than the finished pieces. it’s almost as if some of the energy of the drawing dissipates in the ‘cleaning up’.” keep the lid on that kettle.
it was nearly a year ago from today. i was in los angeles and caught up with daniel at ham ji park for korean bbq. we talked about our experiences of feeling displaced and never feeling comfortably at home anywhere. about how we’re still trying to figure out how, as artists, to create from a place that has yet to, and may never, exist– a singular sense of self. the haze of bbq in the air begins to oversaturate our senses. we see those who have a strong identity from which to stand, but that’s just not us. for those who are mxd, it feels more like a balancing act. sure-footing, an illusory trap, something teasing us to fall. after years of balancing, one becomes something of a funambulist. traversing a line in the void. it’s in our clothes now, the bbq is suffocating, but we know it won’t last.
we walk out of the restaurant. the top has come off the kettle. the brisk LA night air has its own haze. it never quite leaves a person. steam dissipates.