In Conversation with Artist Hoang Duong Cam

I met artist Hoang Duong Cam on an art trip to Vietnam in 2007 and was immediately struck by the impact of his artwork—at once deeply personal and thoughtful as well as fantastically creative and culturally relevant.  As I perused his website I came across a diverse range of recent and upcoming work.  I asked if I could send him a few questions with hopes of possibly unveiling a deeper understanding of the influences behind his art making…  he generously agreed.

LT:   When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

HDC:  I decided to become an artist very early, in the eighties. At that time, life in Vietnam, particularly mine, was very difficult. Everyday I had to deal with the significant short in necessities and entertainment, the “bullying” culture and also the tension that seem to be permanent in my family.  I was in a drawing class taught by the [now] deceased painter Pham Viet Song and found the passion for pursuing art. It was an old-school studio classroom, where the belief in love and art is generously disseminated. I felt protected and appreciated what art offered to me. That made me determined to become an artist. During that time, doing drawings and paintings seem to be the only way out for me.

LT:  You moved to Ho Chi Minh City after living in Hanoi.  Why did you move and how has it influenced your work?

HDC:  In 2001 I moved to Ho Chi Minh City after five years of practicing contemporary art in Hanoi. I was about to lose my job as a graphic designer for a magazine at that time and it was much easier to find a good job in Ho Chi Minh City. That’s why I chose to settle down in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s economic center.  At first, it was difficult to adjust to the enormous difference between the two places, and the very marginalized environment regarding art and culture in the city. It was really a challenging situation and it made me work hard in my studio. In a very good way, this city with all its charm and dynamism gave me lots of energy and inspiration.

LT:  Your work weaves fluidly through the mediums of painting, sculpture, photography and video.  You write, “In my practice, I’d like to imagine the aesthetic as a liquid and the art-making process as a mold, so that the aesthetic, to a certain degree, could be molded by the artist naturally, flexibly even without any awareness by the artist.”  Does each medium serve as a different voice for different ideas?  How would you describe your relationship/artistic intention with regards to each?


Ideal Fall, 2009


Still from Falling Cloud, 2008


HDC:  The most important to me is the freedom of expression and experimentation. Looking back at my previous works, I realize that most of them do not firmly belong to any category, but in between. It’s the conceptual approach that I often use to develop my artwork, even in several painting series. For example, for “Ideal Fall”, I started with Plato’s “ideal form” that lead me to create an utopian paper sculpture. With a conceptual approach, I want to highlight the performative aspect as well as the ‘falling’ process. Eventually, I ended up using photography to express this idea. My intention is not to make cross-categorical artwork, it’s about the conceptual approach and its development.

Painting is my long-time devotion. I find the process of making painting is psychologically and meditatively evoking. During its making I try to figure out the fragile connection between its concept and the unconscious. I am always rewarded in considering this process as it nurtures my conceptual art practice. I find the process to be very personal, very direct. I love the way it revolves around the most sensible connection between mind and action.


The Weirdness of an Ideal Mind, Painting No.5, acrylic on canvas, 2010

LT:  What do you like to do most when you are not making or thinking about art?

HDC:  Well, I spend most of my free time with my family. I am fortunate to have a wonderful family to be proud of. Whatever you do at the end of the day, being with your loved ones is the most precious thing on earth.

LT:  What are you working on now?

HDC:  I am still working around the concept of “idealism,” put it in the context of Vietnamese custom. Several works have been done, like the “Falling Cloud” video installation, “Ideal Fall” photography series, and a painting/sculpture duo series titled “The Weirdness of an Ideal Mind”. In the next few months, I will be back at studio for a new painting series and develop a 3-D animation project.

Hoang Doung Cam’s work and press can be visited at his website.

– post by Lien Truong, who lives and works in Northern California, where she teaches painting and drawing at Humboldt State University

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