Phuong is our first featured 2019 artist in our fourth 7x7x7 Series, which asks 7 questions to 7 Charlottesville artists and published once a week for 7 weeks.
If you had a free afternoon in Charlottesville what would you do or where would you go?
My first choice for a free afternoon would working in my studio, since I don’t get to do that often. If I have extra time would go down the street to Washington Park and sit on the bench at the top of the hill. Just sit there and work there too! It’s just a nice patch of grass in the middle of the city, it’s really comforting.
Describe your artistic work in 7 words.
I do what I want with playfulness!
Who or what inspires your current work?
I studied painting in college and that is what I thought I would do as an artist. Just paint—in terms of oil painting. And this is what I did for most of my four years in college and my fifth year at UVA as well. But after finishing that and when I was able to work on my own for a while I started to lose direction and lose focus and I was not sure what I wanted to work on. Without the pressures of deadlines and classes and things it was hard to be in the studio and to make work productively. I was also feeling a little bit stuck with what I was using, just painting with oil paint. It was a little restricting with the medium. Until I came across this interview with a painter named Joanne Greenbaum and she uses a lot of different materials in her work and I thought it was interesting that she was making these tiny sculptures out of polymer clay as a study for her painting. It started as a study for her paintings and then it became a thing of its own. It then went from polymer clay to ceramics to little sculptures and I really liked that progression. And how she talked about them was really interesting to me as well. She was not embarrassed that she was using a bunch of “play” things—using a craft material similar to play dough to make her work. She emphasized the materials she used in such an interesting way. Somehow that gave me permission I think I needed to use polymer clay and other playful, not conventionally “serious”. materials in my work. That is the one thing that I can pinpoint to in the past few years as being such a huge influence on me and my current work. From making tiny polymer clay sculptures, to larger works, and collaging as well as embroidery. Making more assemblages of paper, painting and embroidery on fabric.
Consider one piece you’re working on right now. Give us a snippet of your routine—from start to finish, what goes into making it?
I usually start off with one material or one object that I like and then I expand from there. For example, with embroideries right now, the one thing that I know how to do is a french knot. So, I have been doing a lot of little french knots to make a textured surface. Then I will come in and add other elements to it as I go along - so it is a lot of improv. I start with things that I like, and then see where the materials take me, and embrace the change that comes.
What have you learned about yourself as a person through the experience of making art?
I think over the years it has become clear that art is a nonnegotiable part of who I am. That I could have a “day job” but that my art is what defines me and it is not something that I can simply do every once in a while and be ok. Because improvisation is such a big part of my process it is so different than how I typically am as a person, since I am such a planner. But it is such a huge, unchangeable part of me.
What would you like to see happen in Charlottesville to better support artists in our community?
More affordable studio space would be great. This is a problem that is really facing artists in our community. This residency at New City Arts is a great way to address this but we need to see more of this in the community. More is better.
What is currently on your studio/work desk?
It has that one embroidery that I have not finished in months! Just sitting there inviting me to finish it. It also has all of my embroidery floss sitting there laid out—I like to be able to see what I am working with. My collection of little odd objects that I would use for my work as well. I have a plant that I am trying to keep alive!
The opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the artist and do not necessarily represent the policies or positions of NCAI.
Phuong Duyen Nguyen was born in Vietnam, and immigrated to the US with her family in 2006. She graduated from UVa in 2015 with a degree in Art History and Studio Art, concentrating in Painting and Printmaking. She works and lives in Charlottesville with a modest collection of house plants. Phuong makes paintings, assemblages, and sculptures that are playful and intimate. During her residency, Phuong will be experimenting with incorporating embroidery into her sculptures and assemblages. See more of her work on her website.