Haerim Jeong



Iui-dong, Youngtong-gu, Suwon, Gyeonggi-do

For illustrator Haerim Jeong, Seoul is a city yet to discover. She was born and raised in Seoul but after her return from the long-term studies in London which started during her adolescent years, she is slowly investigating corners of the city, looking at it with a slightly different point of view, in order to feel more attached to her homeground. As a fine arts graduate at Saint Martins and illustration at Camberwell, she soon began to startup her career after returning home, her major works being the Girl Series, which are illustrations of big-eyed girls staring in fullface. Our interview starts with her description of how the girls relate to herself, the actual girl who had to fit into the strange new place, a complicated story that requires many nights of conversations over multiple drinks, which the girls' large stares seem to be talking about.

Charyoung Lee

You are a well-educated person. We are curious to know why you spent much longer years in London by attending two colleges.

In my case, I left regardless of my own will. I had no choice but to leave for a certain reason and it gave me too little time to question and decide on what to study. And that's why I ended up going to two colleges. My family followed my dad to London and soon I found myself learning painting which I started to grow very nervous about. The nature of fine art-to think deep down on the meaning of my works and to fathom the existing-was too much for me. I simply wanted to draw, which was a great deal of delight, and I wanted to reach to people with easier art so I later chose to start over my studies on commercial art. And that obviously added a couple of more years.

Your major works are the Girl Series. We're pretty sure you've got a story behind the reason you enlarged the girls' eyes.

At the peak of my adolescence I went into a British boarding school. Among the huge fear that sparked after realising I was the only Korean there, my biggest concern was communication. Well I eventually made friends pretty soon but during that short period of time I remember I desparately tried hard to communicate. I consciously looked into people's eyes whenever I was conversating with them in order to prevent any misunderstandings that might happen due to my poor English or cultural difference. When I think of it now I guess as a frightened foreign kid, it was an act for survival, seeking consent and affection from others. So I could say that I wanted to talk about the means to fully understand and embrace the others through the enlarged eyes.


So the Girl Series are like portraits of yourself.

The Girl Series are implicative stories about my adolescent years. I wanted to convey the confusion, the fear, curiosity and loneliness that I faced in the stages of growing from a teenage girl to an adult woman. I do put the meanings sincerely but more to that, I consider the flamboyant colors and decorations most important. The first thing that I framed in the beginning was to make illustrations that would coordinate well with home interiors. I use a wide range of colors and decorative elements so that the girls effortlessly blend into the interior space and stay pretty.

I at first thought the house and illustrations went well together which seems now it wasn't just a coincidence. I think the place is very pretty with interesting decorations everywhere that shows your taste all very naturally. 

I think the collection of small things that I kept adding while in London and from traveling is what makes this house. My house changed from London to Seoul but thanks to my collections, the atmosphere doesn't feel much different. I think of colors and patterns as crucial points to my space as I decorate so I like to collect blankets in charming patterns and items of flashing colors. 

Where in this house do you like most?

The living room. It's the widest space in the house and where I spend most of my time. I make my drawings, watch TV and also eat my meals here so basically I'm always in the living room unless I'm sleeping. This is a brand new building so the layout is based on the flow of today's culture in the habits of living, providing a broader living room than the usual with a significant amount of sunlight shining into the house. Those were enough good reasons for me to decide to live here. I needed a large space that I could also use as a studio to work on my drawings and I was fortunate to find the right one so I quickly moved in. It was a tough search.

Was this your first place to settle after returning from your studies?

No, the first was Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu right before I moved here. I was less-familiar with Seoul's geography at that time so I at first settled in the Gangnam area where I was relatively familiar with at a two-storied flat with high-rise ceilings. But I soon found out that Yeoksam-dong was the most noisy town in the most complexed part of Seoul so I literally ran away after three months. 


When deciding where to live, the air of the neighborhood is also an important factor to consider. Was there a reason you chose to live in a new town boardering Seoul?

To be frank, and I don't want to sound exaggerated, I chose to live here because of my dog Ringo. I was looking for a house close to nature and by that time a friend brought me to this neighborhood to look around. Right behind my house is the Mt. Gwangkyo and Gwangkyo lake which are perfect places for walking Ringo. Hannam-dong near Namsan was another place in mind but then I chose a more afforable one. 

Could you describe your day?

Unless I have appointments or events to attend to, I go through a very simple and plain day. I start my day by walking Ringo the first thing in the morning and getting some coffee at my regular café, clearing my mind for the day. And then I either watch TV or read novels, work on my drawings. 


What kind of lifestyle do you seek?

What I felt firsthand when I came back  was the speed of everything compared to the stream of my long years in London. Everyone seemed to go crazy on new stuff, accepting life that's speedy and busy as the loyal way to live it. On the contrary I'm a more relaxed kind of person that lives a life on a slow clock. Well except when I work, that's a fierce battle. Other than that I want to enjoy every moment of my daily routines and take things easy. Meanwhile some say it'd be tough to make success if I live the way I do, which to me sounds quite odd.


Because you spent many years abroad, I assume your perception of Seoul could be different from us. What's your image of Seoul?

As I mentioned just before this, Korea, especially Seoul, is fast in everything. It's my country, my city but I feel like a stranger to this place from time to time. Sort of like a loud and crowded parent's place? Nice and warm to visit once in a while but gets boring sooner or later. Seoul is a place somewhere like that.


What changes do you notice about Seoul before you left and after you returned?

Before I left, Seoul was nothing more than just the city that I lived in. I left in 9th grade so there aren't that many memories to recall other than my house, the school, and the neighborhood. During my stay abroad I'd spend my school breaks and gap year here and in those times, Seoul was to me a city of pleasure. Other than London where everything closes after sunset, a city with the absence of many night-time entertainments, in Korea, you can easily come across many parts of the cities with neon lights shining 24hours, which I found very interesting. I would go and hang out with my friends every single day to make up for the stressful days I'd spend in London with a thin wallet. And then Seoul after my return feels very different. Well I guess I'm the one that's changed. I've reached the time to throw away my student-ness and face my work with reality. In that context, people like me, who work in a creative field seem to find it hard to tolerate living in Seoul. And I don't have that many friends here. I think this is my new start with this city and the time to slowly reveal my presence. I'm looking forward to what Seoul would bring me next year. 


Where in Seoul do you like most?

I have very poor sense of direction and I'm not so fond of exploring unfamiliar places so as a kid I only knew my way around Gangnam. And then not so long ago an Italian friend came to visit and told me Gangbuk(the north of Han River) gave a very nice impression from its coexistence of the old and new. So I started to discover places in Gangbuk and was able to notice the charms of this city I was unaware of. To me Gangbuk is fresh and fun, a place I began to like very much. 

What are your recent biggest interest?

Patterns. I recently did a collaboration with a fashion brand and made patterns for the first time and it was a real fun project. Not necessarily a collaboration, I'd like to continue with this and produce canvas bags or scarves in patterns of my own designs.


Please share us your most exciting work and plans ahead of you.

 Quite obviously it's the collaboration with the fashion brand Rabbitti. It was very interesting the fact that my two-dimensional patterns came to life in three-dimensional clothes. From then on I'm sketching out ways to work on diverse platforms and not just stick with my drawings on paper only.



34 Hannamdaero 18-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Gyeongui·Jungang Hannam
11:30-23:00 (Mon-Fri), 11:30-01:00 (Sat), 13:30-09:30 (Sun) | 15:00-17:30 (Break Time)

"Living alone makes me miss mom's home-cooked meals sometimes and whenever I do I call and meet up with my friend here."

There are numberless good places to eat out in Seoul but most of them are too salty for Jeong's taste so she heads to MOI with her friends for less-saltier dish. Side dish served in brass plates are warm and friendly, clustering around the petite tables and exchanging daily gossips create a pleasant atmosphere. Once you're finished with your fairly bland meal made of in-season ingredients, it'll feel as though you just emptied your plate of your mother's caring, less salty, healthy cooking. There are also a variety of menus to choose from that'll adorn your after-meal drink. Can it get any better than this?