Mari Kim, is a contemporary Korean artist, renowned as a digital fashion designer, music video director and pioneer of the “Eyedoll” style of art. She currently serves as the CEO of Japanese immersive entertainment studio Cocone N.Y, where she is the key visionary of their innovative digital fashion offerings. At Cocone N.Y. Mari leads a team at the forefront of digital fashion and social networking with over 15 years of avatar styling experience and over 16 billion digital items sold.
Prior to her role as CEO at Cocone N.Y. Mari directed the critically acclaimed music video ‘Hate You’ for Kpop group 2NE1 utilizing her famous ‘doll eye’ style of animation, and has served as the CEO of her own popular fashion and beauty brand MARI MARI since 2018. Mari also boasts a robust background in both traditional and digital art: Her animated piece Missing and Found became one of Korea’s first art-based NFTs to sell at auction, fetching a price of 288 ETH in 2021 ($450k). Her pop art murals are prominently displayed in entrepreneur David Grutman’s premiere Komodo nightclubs in Miami and Dallas and the soon-to-be Komodo Las Vegas. Mari has had solo art exhibitions all over the world including Los Angeles, Miami, Berlin and London.
1. First, when we think of Mari Kim, we immediately think of 2NE1’s “I Hate You,” where your “Eyedoll” character takes the lead. We are really curious about the process of collaborating on the music video as a character artist. Could you share the behind-the-scenes story of how you got this opportunity?
Back when I was still a relatively new artist, I held many exhibitions in various small galleries. During that time, Yang Hyun Suk, who was the CEO of YG Entertainment and heavily involved in its operations, happened to purchase one ofmy paintings displayed in a furniture gallery. This led to him getting in touch with me. From the very first meeting, we had great communication, and he inquired about creating the cover art for 2NE1’s mini-album. Subsequently, I was also commissioned to produce the music video for one of the album’s tracks, “HATE YOU.”
The concept for the music video was brainstormed together with the CEO, and it was an incredibly enjoyable process. In this music video, the members of 2NE1 transformed into bounty hunters in the style of my artwork’s characters, EYEDOLL. They appeared in an animated format, and since then, countless people have watched this music video, which is still recognized as one of the best music videos to date.
2. I heard that you recently entered the gaming industry and assumed the role of CEO at CocoNe’s New York branch, a renowned Japanese gaming company. Were you scouted for the position? It appears to be a rapid transformation from being an artist to becoming the CEO of a Japanese gaming company in New York. We’re also intrigued by the story behind this journey.
A few years ago, I had a successful collaboration with Cocone on their existing service called POKE KOLO. Following that, I had several meetings with Cocone to discuss potential projects we could work on together. Around that time, I achieved significant success in the NFT art auction space, and this experience piqued my interest in the metaverse and sparked many ideas. During one of the meetings with Cocone, I submitted a proposal called “Centennial.” Cocone was highly impressed with the concept and promptly signed a contract.
As the development of the Centennial game progressed, I was actively involved in marketing and PR activities to ensure a successful launch. It was during this time that I was offered the position of CEO for the New York office, as Cocone recognized my ability to handle such tasks effectively. Given that my previous work on Centennial’s success could be applied to launching global games for Cocone, I didn’t find the transition too challenging. Furthermore, I saw this as a significant achievement in my journey as an artist, and the decision to take on this new role felt natural and not difficult at all.
3. As an artist turned entrepreneur, we’re curious about your role at the New York office and your daily life with the team there.
In New York, my mission revolves around successfully launching Cocone’s global services through effective marketing and PR efforts. I engage in collaborations with external companies to ensure efficient work processes, and within the company, I oversee the social media team, operations team, and CX team. As a result, I find myself closely involved in various activities related to Cocone’s current users.
Understanding the preferences and behavior patterns of global users and devising marketing activities that resonate with them is indeed a fascinating aspect of my work.
4. Do you spend most of your time in the U.S. or do you travel between Japan, Korea and the U.S.? What do you find most interesting or enjoyable in each one?
I am primarily based in New York for my work, and it’s my favorite city in the world. I believe it’s an ideal place for getting things done quickly and efficiently, as it’s a hub for global trends and the gathering of numerous professionals. I’m particularly drawn to the diverse personalities coexisting in this city, which adds to its unique charm.
In Korea, I have my art studio, and I’ve built an efficient system to work on art projects, thanks to my long-standing team of studio employees. It’s very convenient for me in that regard. Additionally, Cocone has its subsidiary in Korea, and I often visit to exchange ideas and collaborate.
Japan also holds a special place in my heart as it’s a country rich in tradition, and I often find artistic inspiration there. Cocone’s headquarters is in Japan, and many employees work there, making it another important location for sharing ideas and collaboration.
Overall, I’m quite fond of these countries and feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work in such diverse and inspiring environments.
5. Many emerging artists struggle to promote themselves, especially in this era of active social media. It can be even more challenging to gain recognition in such a competitive environment. Can you please provide some advice that could be really helpful for these up-and-coming artists? How did you navigate this process yourself when you had no connections or name recognition?
I could be considered an artist who has grown alongside the growth of social media. At the time, I was one of the early adopters of sharing my artwork on social media, even though I didn’t have a background in traditional art. I didn’t know any better, so I decided to showcase my work on social media, and it turned out to be an excellent marketing tool and a turning point in gaining recognition.
Today, with the abundance of content being uploaded to social media by everyone, the impact may be somewhat diminished. However, what I believe is most important is consistency. When I first started posting my work on platforms like blogs and Instagram, the user base wasn’t as extensive as it is today, and the quantity of content was relatively low. Nevertheless, I persevered and published 700 posts and artworks over two years. Without such consistent effort, I don’t think I would have achieved the same level of success, even during the booming era of social media.
Consistency over the long term is the most effective approach, and I believe this principle applies to all aspects of life.
6. I also saw an interview where your NFT artwork sold for a high price recently. Many people may be curious about what factors determine the price of such artwork. Could you explain what factors come into play when setting the price?
I often find value in artworks not just because they are visually pleasing and beautiful, but more often than not, they carry significant symbolic meaning. It’s important to consider the significance of a piece in terms of representing a trend or a first in a particular era. Additionally, understanding how a work symbolizes a particular period and movement is crucial. For example, the NFT piece I sold had strong symbolic significance as it was the first NFT piece planned by a Korean artist in Korea, representing a milestone in the world of NFT art.
7. Many artists want to create and promote their own NFT artworks, but the NFT market is still unfamiliar to many. How do you go about creating artwork as an NFT, and how does it differ from creating non-NFT art? Additionally, once you’ve created an NFT artwork, could you provide some advice on how to market it in the NFT space?
There are countless tools available for creating NFTs, which involve applying unique identification marks to digital images or videos using blockchain technology. Once these NFTs are created, there are numerous platforms where you can sell them. Platforms like OpenSea, among many others, showcase and facilitate the sale of various forms of NFT art. These platforms are creating markets independent of the traditional art world and are offering artists endless opportunities.
8. At the Komodo Lounge located in Miami, USA, your artwork can also be seen. Were you scouted for the Komodo restaurant’s artwork?
Famous Miami entrepreneur David Grutman reached out to me after receiving my artwork as a wedding gift from a friend. Initially, we collaborated to create a digital wall for KOMODO Lounge in Miami, and it turned out to be a fantastic addition to the lounge. This year, we launched another KOMODO Lounge in Dallas, Texas, and it, too, has been beautifully brought to life.
9. We would love to hear from someone who has successfully built their own brand like you have. What do you consider the most important aspects of building oneself as a brand, and what aspects should one be mindful of?
Anyone with talent has the potential to create their own brand. It’s not about just doing what everyone else does; it’s about finding your unique style and personality. Even if it’s the same thing, you need to do it differently and discover your own distinctiveness.
As mentioned earlier, I believe that consistency is the foundation of success in everything. Nowadays, with numerous platforms available to showcase oneself, it’s crucial to consistently promote and market yourself. Through this ongoing process of promotion, your content will accumulate, expand, and eventually reach a wide audience.
10. While growing up, did you already know what you wanted to do as a career? 양식의 맨 아래
I didn’t have a clear dream when I was young, other than the one my parents had set for me, which was to become a doctor. In many households, children’s future aspirations are often determined by their parents’ opinions. However, I had a strong passion for reading comic books, watching animations, and indulging in rebellious novels. Although I enjoyed these activities, I had no idea that I would end up living the life of an artist as I do now. Nevertheless, I believe that my interests and inclinations during my early years had a significant influence on my path to becoming an artist.
11. There is still a prevalent bias in the cultural and arts sector that it is difficult to establish oneself without the financial support or background. For younger artists who may perceive high entry barriers, we would like to hear your thoughts on this. Especially, if you could offer advice on how to sustain oneself financially in the early stages? 양식의 맨 아래
The arts market can be considered relatively small, and success within it may indeed be challenging. However, nowadays, there are numerous tools for self-promotion and various platforms for exhibitions, which have significantly lowered the entry barriers. While it can still be tough to achieve success, I believe the opportunities for artists have become more accessible.
Many artists often pursue other jobs, especially in the early stages of their careers, to make a living. I, too, taught university classes for about ten years to support myself. However, it’s common to see artists eventually give up their artistic dreams to focus on their day jobs. The key to success lies in not losing sight of your own dreams and goals, and continually moving in the right direction. Balancing another job in the early stages is often necessary, in my opinion.
12. If you have any secrets or tips on how you’ve been able to expand your network so successfully, we’d love to hear them.
I consider myself fortunate to have started my art career during the emergence of social media, which provided me with numerous ways to promote myself. I didn’t have a formal art education, and when I began my journey as an artist in Seoul, I didn’t know anyone in the field. I didn’t have an existing network, but by consistently engaging in social media activities during the era of its growth, I naturally started building my network. This online network has also translated into real-world connections.
13. You’ve always been ahead of trends. If you were to predict the next big trend we should be paying attention to, what would it be? What preparations would you recommend for those who want to lead the way in the next trend?
The current Alpha generation was born into an era where iPhones and digital technology have always existed. For them, the line between the physical and digital worlds may not be as distinct as it is for adults who grew up in a different era.
As the digitally savvy younger generations continue to grow, the digital item market is likely to see significant expansion. In this context, I believe that Cocone’s metaverse and avatar games hold great significance and will contribute to the further expansion of Cocone’s domain. We all need to prepare for this digital world.
14. Could you make some predictions about the cultural and artistic keywords for 2024?
Centennial, digital world, digital items.
15. Do you play video games? If so, what is your favorite video gameto play personally? Also, what sports you enjoy doing?
I’m also a gaming enthusiast, particularly fond of horror games. I used to really enjoy the game “Silent Hill” from Konami back in the day. Recently, I had a great time playing a game called “Dave the Dive.”
While I’m not particularly skilled in sports, I don’t engage in traditional sports activities. However, I love spending time in the ocean, and I occasionally go snorkeling and scuba diving.
16. Can you share “what I love” with our readers? Please pick your top 2 favorites for each category: 1) 2 YouTube channels you’re currently subscribed to, 2) 2 songs from your music playlist, and 3) 2 favorite Korean dramas or variety shows.
Youtube: Ralral, The pet collective
Music Play list: Peggy Gou, La Havane (Sofiane Pamart)
Korean show: Doona!, The Devil’s Plan
17. If you ever have time for rest and relaxation? If so, when do you take rests and what is your favorite thing to do during the down time?
I watch a lot of tv series and movies, often continuously and without breaks. It’s a way for me to keep my mind occupied with different content and prevent work-related thoughts from entering my mind.
18. What kind of fashion style do you enjoy wearing? Could you briefly describe the clothing items you’re wearing now?
I mainly prefer wearing clothes with subtle patterns. I enjoy adding variety through textures or different shapes in my clothing choices. I gravitate towards chicyet simultaneously sexy styles.
For more glamorous occasions, I tend to express myself through brands like Alexander McQueen or Balmain. On regular days, I opt for casual attire like Alexander Wang or Y3. Additionally, I have a fondness for Levi’s jeans.
19. Do you have anything to add that you might want to share with
Cocone’s global project, Centennial, is an exciting challenge for both Cocone and me. I believe it’s a fantastic game that offers a diverse range of experiences, appealing to everyone from the Alpha generation to Gen Z. In Centennial, you can explore my art style, K-pop style, various music, engage in various social activities, and make numerous friends in this new digital world. Your interest and support are greatly appreciated.
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