Though the doors of the iconic West Hollywood Standard might be closing forever — greedy landlords can get bent — the irreverent hotel’s stylish impact is burning bright as ever. The number of pitches I get each and every day about candles would overwhelm a less stoic woman, but when I got a glimpse of Bonam Kim’s entry into this understandably overstuffed category I was hooked on sight.
Kim is a Brooklyn-based sculptor with a BFA and an MFA from Hong-ik University in Seoul, and she completed a second MFA degree in sculpture at the Pratt Institute in Fort Greene. Which is to say, she’s not your average candle-maker. While most wax concoctions come in frosted glass jars or cute little tins, Kim’s stand on their own, shapely silhouettes that are more like art pieces than anything else. There is something unsettling about a sculptor making pieces she knows will only be temporary, and even the wax pouring down the lit candle’s chest is almost gruesome — in the best way.
Her “HIM” and “Hannah” hand-sculpted candles are male and female busts that come in a variety of colors, but her most recent collaboration exclusively for The Standard comes in the hotel’s signature bright shock of red. Yes, a single candle will run you $80 — $90 for The Standard’s exclusive red — though they’re slightly more affordable for the pair currently on sale at $120. But keep in mind, you’re not just buying a candle, you’re also supporting an independent female artist. And even though the bulk of the candle shaping is done by mold, Kim sculpts the fine details on each piece by hand.
Most artists do need help getting the word out about their creations, painters have galleries, and Kim has the art e-commerce brand Prospect, another woman-founded company that helps artists create accessible design objects. Laura Currie created the brand in 2016 to help bridge the gap between young people who might have a taste for art but not the wallet, and artists who wanted to reach wider audiences beyond just collectors. Working with artists like Nir Hod, Judy Chicago, Katherine Bernhardt, and of course Kim, Currie helps bring art into the mainstream in a new way, beyond the sometimes intimidating bounds of the gallery world. In the case of Kim’s candles, these sculptures disrupt a tired home accessory and predictable decorating staple by giving it a flair of the avant garde.
For the artist, the title is just as important as the piece itself. Writing about her choice of the name “Hannah” she explains how it translates across culture and language: “In Korean, Hannah means ‘one,’ for Judaism, heavenly grace, in Arabic it represents happiness, within Japan, a flower, while in Maori, it’s the act of glowing.I designed my candle to honor that immanent beauty and humanity.” She’s also careful to note the candles aren’t based off real human bodies, but classical Greek sculpture from the hellenistic period — a relief for those of us eyeing Hannah’s abs incredulously.
While candles might’ve been a great gift before, this expensive, unexpected rendering that elevates them to art object status has broken the mold. They also pack a punch for the price point — these sculptural candles are made of an organic mixture of bee and soy wax, they’re 7.5 inches tall and offer approximately eight hours of burn time. Get some here so you can watch the wax drip down Hannah’s chest yourself.