When she was 17, Henn Kim stopped speaking. While she had always been a relatively shy child, the South Korean-born illustrator’s crippling depression and insomnia only really kicked in during her late teens, and saw her withdraw from the friends and family around her. Art ultimately proved to be her saving grace, acting as a means for her to translate the fractured thoughts and complex feelings that constantly swirled around in her head into the real world.
Kim’s monochrome artworks, which she describes as “beautiful dark twisted fantasies”, are instantly recognisable. An intoxicating mix of familiarity and surreality, they offer a poignant commentary on the themes that affect all of us at one point or another, from heartbreak to fantasy to sorrow. They clearly strike a chord with her fans as well; she has gained a cult following on Instagram and regularly converses with her 870,000 followers about her innermost thoughts and feelings.
Kim is perhaps best known for her striking cover illustration for Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, which depicts a young couple hopelessly tangled up together like sardines in a tin. She was given the opportunity to revisit her original artwork recently in a promo campaign for the hugely popular BBC Three adaption of the novel, in which her illustrations came to life on the screen, and has also extended her talents to a recent project for Unicef, in which she depicted the impact of pollution on children’s health.
Here, the illustrator discusses discovering the joy of creativity from a young age, why she only draws in black and white, and how she has found social media to be a surprisingly supportive place to bare her soul.