Loc Huynh is a 25-year-old artist from Austin, Texas. In 2016, he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from Texas State University. His work draws influence from popular cartoons, history paintings, and pop art. Huynh has been exhibited in various group shows and benefits across Texas. He is currently a candidate for the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Can you talk about your experience growing up in a unique city like Austin? How did your interest in art progress?
Despite how much Austin has changed since I was a kid, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Austin. It’s a strange place, but with many outlets for creative minds. I think that gives Austin a unique identity and makes it a city unlike any other in Texas.
My first exposure to anything artistic came from things like cartoons and comic books. When I got older I became really interested in graphic images like those found on band t-shirts and tattoos. I first went to college thinking that I wanted to be a graphic designer, but lost interest and found it too rigid. It wasn’t until I started attending Texas State that I considered making a career out of the fine arts. I’ve always wanted to be a creator of some sort. As a kid, I used to love making my own toys out of air dry clay or pipe cleaners and I also used to draw my own comics. So I’ve always liked making things on my own, even though I could easily buy them. There is something satisfying about creating that I’ve always felt from a young age.
You have a background in tattooing and graffiti, two socio-politically charged mediums. Can you talk about your relationship with these mediums and how they have evolved and influenced your work today?
I apprenticed at a shop for about 3 months before I went back to school, but before that, I was getting tattooed a lot and even befriended some tattoo artist. The graffiti thing was rather recent development. I used to tag with markers and do some paste-ups, but that’s the extent of my experience with actual graffiti. There are certain aspects I’ve adopted from these mediums. The process I use to create preliminary drawings and even composing images is a technique I borrowed from tattooing. I would sketch my imagery in red and blue pencil first and refine it with tracing paper. I don’t exactly see my work being too influenced by graffiti, I guess using high-key colors and graphic imagery was something I saw in artists like KAWS and Keith Haring that I liked. If anything I see my work more so influenced by hardcore and metal band t-shirts I used to wear as a teenager.
What is the most difficult struggle for you as an artist?
I’d say trying to outdo yourself every time. There’s a saying about how you’re only as good as your last painting, and there’s definitely a few paintings I’d say I’m less than happy with that make me want to be a better artist.
Another thing I often struggle with is trying to come up with images and ideas that complement each other. Because despite what anyone says or thinks, I’ll be the first to say my work is stupid, and it looks stupid, but there is a certain type of dumbness that I want to achieve. Sometimes I have ideas or make drawings that don’t work because they are the stupid in a wrong way.
Can you talk about your process?
I come up with a rough sketch, which I refine over and over until I am satisfied with the image. Translating the drawing to painting is a different story because there’s no room for refinement, you just work through it, as clichéd as that sounds. Painting demands a lot of patience and to have a satisfying final product is so rewarding, which is why I often hold them to a greater standard than my drawings or sketches. The final painting tends to deviate little from the initial drawing. I take liberties in the process of making the painting if it makes for a better image.
In what manner do you think about your work in relation to activism? What is your role, if any, in your perception of social change? Do you ever consider getting more involved in social reform and activism?
My work is not meant to answer or demand a solution for any social injustice; I don’t think it’s an artists place to have all the solutions to wrongs of the world, but it is an artists job to react to it. I react by making pictures that are based on a source of truth but taking that and exaggerating it like a folk tale. The message, if any, which persist through my works, tends to be an ambivalence and pessimism about the helplessness of the current state of affairs, and questioning whether making fun of our predicament is an acceptable way to cope.
As far as social reform and activism, I see my involvement in that coming through by the form of making things like zines or prints to sell for benefits and causes I feel strongly about. I’m an artist, I leave policy making to the politicians, the best I think I can do to voice my dissent is making art about things I’m dissatisfied about.
Your work seems to evolve and change into many forms, is there an art medium that is off limits or not of interest to you currently (video/animation/sound/photography)?
I’ve given that plenty of thought. I experimented with video in my undergrad and did a piece during a residency I recently attended, I’d like to mess around with video some more. I’ve also been wanting to make sculptures, seeing that lately I’ve been making sculptural paintings. Nothing is off limits, but there are mediums that I find more appealing than others.
It seems that the majority of your work is politically oriented, do you have a preference over making this type of work rather than personal work? How do you balance or prioritize the two?
For the last year, my work has solely been focused on the political aspect, so it’s been kind of refreshing to make work based around smaller scale subjects. I’ve been going back and forth between personal themes and more grandiose narrative pieces. It keeps me from getting tired of the one thing.
It feels like you are consciously fighting against what’s been done and presenting the viewer with the unexpected. Is this something you are contesting with yourself as an artist? To what extent and how is it a part of your process?
If you try or think too much about being original, it can sometimes be hindering. I don’t try to do things that haven’t been done, but instead take queues that I think are successful from a variety of artists from throughout the centuries and from different artistic movements, and combine them. Sometimes reappropriating the old creates something new, it’s a strategy that many artists have used. I look to romanticism as much as I look to more modern artists, like Picasso, to inform my own work.
What is the spectrum of topics that appear in your work? Is there anything that is off limits?
Nothing is really off limits, but I guess there is very much such a thing as too soon. I remember making preliminary drawings about the Pulse nightclub shooting, and had to think long and hard about it before ultimately rejecting the idea of making it a painting. But if I have to say anything, the thing that makes it’s way into my work a lot is usually violence. Visual violence is prevalent in art history and our media, and I think of it as an excuse to create interesting interaction between the characters in my paintings.
When you combine caricature with the grotesque and the explicit content in your work, it intensifies the work in many ways. Do you think about this amplification as a feat that you try to reach with every work?
I see it as something that naturally happens; I never saw it as amplifying any particular aspect. As a kid I used to draw caricatures and comics of kids I didn’t get along with and teachers I didn’t like. I’ve always found something empowering with the mean-spiritedness of caricature like you can put politicians or celebrities in humiliating circumstances that are physically impossible. It’s kind of like a tar and feathering, but without the actualized physical violence.
Some of your works address specific catastrophic events similar to the manner in which Picasso reacted to the bombing of Guernica. Your works such as Terror Train and Battle for the Pipeline stress present-day tragic events. Has this way of working becoming ritualistic in your practice and what is your hope for these works that you make and continue to make?
Yeah, it has sadly become part of my practice. It may sound cynical and “un-artist-like” but the real world is way fucked up, and gives me enough material to the point where I don’t have to be terribly creative, with content anyways. I’m well aware that in a matter of months, or even weeks, the perspective will be less potent because of the passage of time, but my goal is to create images weird and crazy enough to where it might want to make people figure out the source context of the image. I’ve been looking at a lot of Théodore Géricault lately, not so much for the technique, although his paintings are exquisite, but rather for formal elements and context. He creates these magnificent paintings, even if they are small, that demand your attention and that draws me in. He creates interesting images with political motifs, and I guess I’m trying to do something similar.
I’ve noticed your work, almost organically transform from 2-dimensional to more sculptural works. Are you becoming more interested in exploring the works overall physical presence?
I’ve always thought of myself not only as a painter but also as an object maker. I make my frames and canvases, so I’ve always liked creating objects. The sculptural quasi-impasto paintings came about as kind of a freeing exercise to do something completely different than what I’ve been doing with the flat surface of the glass. I’ve also dabbled in installation in my undergrad and would like to explore that a little as well.
Where do you see your work and your life going in the foreseeable future? With an MFA are you planning to teach at a collegiate level? What’s next for you?
I want to be an artist living and working in a major city like New York, LA, or Chicago. It’s kind of a cliché I suppose, but big cities like those are super artist-friendly, even if you’re competing for the same thing with thousands of other people. I do intend to teach one day, but it is not my immediate goal, being an artist is always at the forefront, and anything I do job-wise is just a means to supplement my creative production. I have a few things planned ahead. I will have my first solo exhibition at Clamp Light Studio in San Antonio, Texas in November. I will also be featured in issue 132 of New American Paintings. And I am applying to some residencies that I hope to do over the upcoming summer because I had such a great time with the one in Vermont this last summer.
Loc Huyn: lochuynhart.com
interviewed by Jeanette Nevarez
Published on October 30, 2017