Artist Spotlight: Tom Kim

Mar 4, 2019

Local Washington, DC artist Tom Kim designed a Defend the Arctic t-shirt for the LCV Shop back in 2017. Now, he is back to share his story as a creator and calling attention to the climate crisis in the Arctic and elsewhere through his art. Interested in supporting our work? Click here to get your t-shirt today.

My name is Tom Kim, and I’m an artist and an environmental advocate. I’ve been an artist my entire life. My work ranges from playful cartoons to commercial illustration and oil painting. In the constant search for inspiration for my work, I am always asking myself what is important to me? And why?

I am passionate about speaking out for the environment. When I’m not working, I take every chance I can to go surfing. Part of what I love about surfing is how it connects us as humans both physically and spiritually with nature. Surfing has taken me to some of the most beautiful places in the world. Throughout my life I’ve been drawn to Central America, and my most recent work has been inspired by my time exploring the Pacific coasts of Costa Rica and Nicaragua over the past two decades.

“I am soft spoken by nature, but that does not mean my voice cannot be heard.  I support LCV because I know that a unified voice cannot be ignored.”

I have always been concerned about the water crisis, but in Central America, it is alarmingly apparent during their dry season how dire the situation is – seeing new, larger drilling rigs pop up every year to tap deeper into the water table to access fresh water is concerning to say the least. In speaking with local populations about who cannot afford and have access to this heavy machinery, it becomes very clear how directly environmental issues are human rights issues.  

Since the Trump administration’s implementation of policies that blatantly sacrifice the health of our planet for short term corporate profit, artists locally and around the world who may not have considered themselves “political” artists are now finding that they can no longer ignore this absurd attack on our most precious resources.   

What I want to do with my art is invite people into a conversation that is difficult to have.  Climate change is depressing!  And for many it seems more like an abstract problem for “the future.” I think this is why many people have taken a back seat on this issue.  “Leave it for the next generation”. I love nature because it gives me comfort and perspective – the more wild and untouched, the more profound the effect.  The purpose of my most recent work is to remind us of this feeling, to appreciate it, and then to recognize it is disappearing now.  

While I hope my work inspires a sense of duty and action, I also support the environmental movement more practically through incredible organizations like the League of Conservation Voters. I am soft spoken by nature, but that does not mean my voice cannot be heard.  I support LCV because I know that a unified voice cannot be ignored.

We must make politicians take climate change and environmental protection more seriously.  A few years ago, I had the opportunity to help fight to defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by designing a t-shirt for the LCV Shop. This shirt helps support LCV’s efforts to protect the Arctic, one of the world’s last truly wild places and sacred land to the Gwich’in people who have lived in Alaska for more than 20,000 years. The fight to stop drilling in the Arctic and protect the rights of native groups and wildlife isn’t over which is why I am continuing to speak out.

Below is a small visual gallery of three of my paintings with some notes from me. If you are interested in seeing more, please check out my website

Let’s Rebuild the Sun
12”x16” Gold acrylic, oil, and ink on masonite panel
I did this little painting thinking about how some people’s attitude toward climate change is that we don’t need to do anything now because human ingenuity will somehow “just figure it out.” The fact that in 2019 many extreme politicians are comfortable denying that climate change is real and are okay with completely dismissing scientific evidence in general is not a good sign for humanity’s future ability to deal with our exponentially worsening environmental crisis.

Milk Relic V
24”x20” Oil, acrylic, and charcoal on canvas
This is one piece in a larger series entitled Milk Relics. The series is a body of fictional “relics” that are viewed from a future human perspective. The images represent how I see our children’s children might longingly think of how indulgently we lived. We take fresh water for granted now. We lose over a gallon of fresh water each time we flush a regular toilet. We pump thousands of gallons of water onto our lawns to achieve a useless aesthetic. The Milk Relics are a warning from our future – we must appreciate and protect our resources now.

Milk Relic X – The Fire
30”x30” Oil and acrylic on wood panel
This is another piece from the Milk Relics series that addresses our changing atmosphere. Among the increasing extreme weather catastrophes occurring across the world, the 2018 California wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive in California’s recorded history. Views of the sun and sky were altered across the country.

Extreme weather is a result of human impact on our environment. Climate change is a byproduct of carbon emissions. These are facts. We live in cities where smog blots out the sun, asthmatic children literally cannot breathe, and now we have an administration bent on reverting our country 200 years back into the coal burning industrial era. The sky has changed before our very eyes, and yet we still look away.

The entire Milk Relic series and other new works will be shown at a solo exhibit I will be doing at the Lost Origins Gallery in Washington, DC later this year (exact dates TBA).