Brain Huy is an illustrator born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City. Huy started painting at a young age, then stopped to focus on fashion in high school. After getting his university degree, Huy continued walking down the creative path — and is now working as art director at Unilever’s in-house agency.
Having gone through changes and challenges in his career and in life, Huy ponders over his identity and the reasons for his existence in this universe. “Why do I have to live like a machine? I’m doing my dream job, but why am I not happy with that?”
Huy decided to leave everything behind and started over from scratch — he went back to painting. This decision led him to Buddhism (đạo Bụt) when his life hit the rock bottom. At first, Huy painted to heal himself, but now, after having recovered from pain, he is more inspired than ever to bring his “healing” art to anyone suffering from the hardships of life, just like him before.
Normally, before working on a new painting, Huy lets the universe guide his way since coincidence is necessary for Buddhism. Following this preliminary feeling, he chooses a particular Buddha or a Bodhisattva for a further and thorough study of their symbolism and depictions in art. When he has all the necessary information, Huy puts all his mind and energy into creating a masterpiece.
1. How much time does it take for you to finish a painting? When is “enough”?
For me, a finished work is not merely the completion on the outside, but rather its inner fulfillment in emotion, energy, and peace.
I want to bring up a peaceful sense of intimacy through my paintings, at least I – as the author – have to feel it first. For that reason, a painting could be ‘enough’ after a few days, but there are some that take a very long time to complete.
So, ‘enough’ is when you find the healing balance within yourself and spread that energy to other people.
2. How do you know which painting would suit a customer?
Luckily, most of the customers come to me because they are searching for healing and inner peace. After having a few words with them, I find a mutual connection between me and my customers.
When it comes to choosing a suitable painting, the process usually takes place very naturally because our relationship is first set up as friendship.
3. During your painting process, which step is the most personal?
There is nothing personal when it comes to Buddha since Buddha has nothing to hide for himself. However, when working on a Buddhist piece of art, playing love songs, raps, or anything that distracts your mind would not be appropriate.
Whether being filled with too much sadness or happiness or when being drowned in worrisome problems in life, I could hardly pick up my brush to paint.
4. What is the worst career advice you have ever heard?
I don’t remember. How could a piece of advice be bad? People give us advice because they love us. You don’t have to follow their advice if you don’t like it. Even when the advice doesn’t seem useful to you, there will still be valuable lessons to learn if you give it a try.
5. Are there any memorable stories behind your Buddhism paintings?
Each painting has an unforgettable story full of mysterious and spiritual magic which would astonish you.
There was a time when a monk came across the painting of "Avalokiteśvara" I posted on social media. He asked me to save it and showed the painting to a young boy suffering from a terminal illness. The monk then sent me a message, saying that when seeing this painting, the young boy smiled and passed away peacefully without pain. It’s so amazing. This story helped me realize how meaningful this journey is.
6. How could you bring an idea alive appropriately?
As I answered above, when a concept or an idea pops up in my head, the first thing I do is to research the painting genre in different cultures.
When I feel good energy, I would turn it into painting based on the background of cultural traits I have studied. Painting Buddha is not about creating a new figure, but presenting what has already been there with my brush.
7. Why are your paintings centered on Buddha?
To be honest, I am just a big child, having enjoyed folk tales and anything related to “ông Bụt” – a Vietnamese male version of fairy – since I was very young. When I researched about this topic, I found out that “Bụt” means “Buddha,” which monk Thich Nhat Hanh has mentioned before.
“Bụt” or Buddha has been a familiar existence in our subconscious for a very long time. It’s just the advent of social media that makes us gradually forget a part of our childhood memories.
Also, I choose Buddha because this is my healing journey and I truly hope anyone like me would be healed too.
8. What do you get from these personal projects?
Happiness and peace.
9. From idea to practice, which step is the most important?
Idea is the imagination and aspirations of yours, your family, friends, and your beloved one. The combination between ideas and creativity is to convert those desires into a work of art through images I have studied about.
Therefore, from idea to creativity, the most important thing is to create an approachable figure that you could feel a “personal, emotional and spiritual connection” with.
To put it simply, for a person in search of knowledge or having a deep desire for love, which figure would they feel a corresponding connection with?
10. What are your sources of study materials?
It’s really hard to find an official source of information in this field because Buddhism is interpreted in various ways, depending on the culture and traditions of the place. I have read documents on Buddhist scripture and sculpture, guidebooks on drawing ancient figures, and even studied Thangka – a type of Tibetan Buddhist painting.
This way, I always learn something new.
Translated by Bich Tram