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Featured Artist: Duy Huynh

S&H editor Ben Nussbaum spoke with Charlotte-based artist Duy Huynh about memory, graphic novels, and being an immigrant and artist.

You were five-years-old when your family immigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam. That background might create a fierce desire for financial stability, leading to safe career choices. You went a different direction. What engendered that?

Stubbornness, I think. I began drawing at an early age, and even as a kid, I knew I wanted to do something related to this newfound love. Of course, I didn’t really understand what being an artist meant or how to become one. I definitely did not consider whether or not it would be a profitable pursuit.

I just remember how much joy there was in making something. Creating something out of almost nothing but your imagination felt like magic. I felt like this was sort of my calling and I haven’t looked back.

I’d be lying if I said the path was not filled with challenges and moments of self-doubt, but whether the stubbornness is derived from a sincere passion or just irrational confidence, it has been an incredibly rewarding journey, even when not monetarily so. I think once I started to focus more on why I wanted to be an artist rather than how, things just started to fall into place for me.

At what age did you feel like you had a personal style, a personal vision?

It was around my early to mid-20s when the work started to take on the look of what my paintings look like today. I was beginning to show my work more and was very encouraged by the responses from it. This gave me a bit of direction moving forward, but it wasn’t until a sudden tragic loss of a loved one that I had a clearer sense of purpose.

I’m not sure if my personal style or vision is fully developed yet, actually. It’s perpetually a work in progress, with plenty of room for improvements, and I’m okay with that.

The people in your images have neutral expressions. Are they aware of how odd their surroundings are? Are they in on the joke, so to speak?

That’s the kind of question I want the viewer to ask themselves. Is the character in a dream state? Why is she floating, or is she landing? What do the flowers and birds swirling around his head represent? I enjoy celebrating the ambiguous and ephemeral in my work, and would prefer not to provide a definitive answer because I don’t think there needs to be one.

I often live vicariously through the characters I create as they search for a kind of freedom and peace within, regardless of what’s going on around them. Making my work can be a very therapeutic process. I’m hoping others are able to put themselves in the work and experience a similar catharsis.

You probably have hazy, dreamlike memories of Vietnam. Your images are sort of hazy, dreamlike. Is there a connection, or am I being too literal?

I hadn’t considered that connection, but my memories of Vietnam and my experience as a refugee coming to America have definitely inspired several works. The hazy look of my paintings goes along with the ambiguous atmosphere that’s usually a part of dreams and/or memories.

Where do you see your art evolving?

I’m not sure. I haven’t thought that far ahead. I’ve been painting for roughly 20 years or so, and I often feel like I’m just getting started. I have a number of projects mentally in the works, but I’m not sure where they’ll take me. I think that’s part of the fun.

You’ve said comics were a big early influence. Do you ever feel the tug to do graphic novels?

Not too much. I’m open to collaborating with a writer on a project, but it’s a very different creative process that I’d have to reacquaint myself with. From my experience, working on a graphic novel requires a great deal of planning, coordination, and structure. One of the things I enjoy about the painting process is that it allows more room for spontaneity and mistakes. It can be frustrating at times, but it’s the mistakes that lead to discovery.

The Trust Test by Duy Huynh
Ethos Entanglement by Duy Huynh

The people in your images have neutral expressions. Are they aware of how odd their surroundings are? Are they in on the joke, so to speak?

That’s the kind of question I want the viewer to ask themselves. Is the character in a dream state? Why is she floating, or is she landing? What do the flowers and birds swirling around his head represent? I enjoy celebrating the ambiguous and ephemeral in my work, and would prefer not to provide a definitive answer because I don’t think there needs to be one.

I often live vicariously through the characters I create as they search for a kind of freedom and peace within, regardless of what’s going on around them. Making my work can be a very therapeutic process. I’m hoping others are able to put themselves in the work and experience a similar catharsis.

You probably have hazy, dreamlike memories of Vietnam. Your images are sort of hazy, dreamlike. Is there a connection, or am I being too literal?

I hadn’t considered that connection, but my memories of Vietnam and my experience as a refugee coming to America have definitely inspired several works. The hazy look of my paintings goes along with the ambiguous atmosphere that’s usually a part of dreams and/or memories.

Where do you see your art evolving?

I’m not sure. I haven’t thought that far ahead. I’ve been painting for roughly 20 years or so, and I often feel like I’m just getting started. I have a number of projects mentally in the works, but I’m not sure where they’ll take me. I think that’s part of the fun.

You’ve said comics were a big early influence. Do you ever feel the tug to do graphic novels?

Not too much. I’m open to collaborating with a writer on a project, but it’s a very different creative process that I’d have to reacquaint myself with. From my experience, working on a graphic novel requires a great deal of planning, coordination, and structure. One of the things I enjoy about the painting process is that it allows more room for spontaneity and mistakes. It can be frustrating at times, but it’s the mistakes that lead to discovery.

Visit duyhuynh.com to explore more of Duy Huynh's work.