In 2004, Nguyen Huy An released his first work of art at an exhibition hosted by Nha San Studio. Over the years, his creations have been showcased across Vietnam and the globe — from Galerie Quynh, Nha San Collective and the Vincom Center for Contemporary Art, to Singapore Biennale (2013) and Istanbul Biennale (2015)...
An doesn’t limit himself within the scope of a single art medium: he can paint, write, act and sculpt. His works usually feature materials tied to the old days and reflect his own viewpoint of universal topics. In fact, An can bring to life inanimate objects like hair, fabric, ink or paper as storytellers.
Nguyen Huy An admits he’s somewhat of a pessimist with a weak mentality, and there’s a very real influence from it on the way he approaches his art subjects. But An’s works are never meant to just be beautiful; they also speak to the soul.
How would you describe your audience?
A crowd from all ages and walks of life, who are knowledgeable and have an eye for art.
But I’ve also met people who don’t fit into that description, yet told me they enjoy my art regardless.
How would you describe your works to someone who knows nothing about contemporary art or traditional Vietnamese culture?
Sometimes I like to tell them to not even consider what they’re looking at to be art. Instead, how does that pose, that imagery, that palette… make you feel?
Of course, there are still works that I need to explain if the audience is unfamiliar. But that’s not too hard, because we can always find something on Wikipedia.
What’s the number one criterion you need when deciding whether to publicize one of your works?
What’s most important is, at that point in time, I thought it was alright. That means clear, coherent, simple and true to the overall meaning of my message.
Where do you think is the beauty in a contemporary artwork?
I think people only use the word “beauty” as a habit. It’s probably not a fitting measuring system for the spiritual value of artworks — whether contemporary or old, eastern or western.
The power of art isn’t just limited to its beauty, but also what kind of influence it has on its spectators.
Sometimes, I even think of beauty like a trap. As much as contemporary art tries to reject the idea of beautifying itself, at the end of the day, it’s still caught in that trap.
Which one of your works would you send to someone feeling lost?
That depends on who I am at that point in time, who that person is, and how exactly “lost” they are. Once, I wanted to send someone I know a painting by de La Tour.
What do you do when your work reaches a deadlock?
Everything I need to do, just in deadlock.
If there’s a day when you’re no longer making art, what kind of job would you be doing?
I’d probably still be involved with painting. Maybe as an instructor or decorator.
If you could be invisible, what would you do?
Run a lap. I’ll think about what’s next afterwards.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
To reconsider studying art. It was a long time ago.
Although, I’m not too certain either. What if it turns out to make sense in the future? How do you know for sure if something’s good or bad?
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Translated by Jennifer Nguyen