Hieu Nguyen, has done two mesmerizing works that will be included in the beautiful.bizarre curated international group exhibition Bitter | Sweet, opening 18 March 2017 at 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace on the Gold Coast. I had the pleasure of working alongside this incredible human being, whose humility and hardworking nature make him a force to be reckoned with in the art world. Watercolour and digital painting are the perfect mediums to fit with the flowing nature of Hieu’s work; his pieces seem to blend effortlessly outside themselves, flowing off the page beautifully and energetically.
Art is all about communication and Hieu has us journey with him into the page, with stories emerging from colour and lines that are truly breathtaking. Through organic shapes, plant life, and geometric details, Hieu moves the energy around the page, creating a flow and expression often seen by some of his favourite artists. His own personal identity and versatility with mediums, his palette and textures integrate into everything he creates.
I can almost feel the seasons in his pieces “Absence” and “Presence” [see below] for the upcoming ‘Bitter | Sweet’ group show. It’s a wonderful thing to look at a work of art and feel the wind interweaving with the stranger on the page. You don’t think about art when you see Hieu’s work, you feel the moment he is trying to create, moving energy, water colour galaxies and a sense of freedom.
Hieu is an open book in our interview below, a striking contrast to his beginnings when most of his followers knew nothing about the man behind Kelogloops. When you get to know him, you get a deeper understanding of the sensitivity that lies behind his incredible work.
Bitter | Sweet
Opening Reception: March 18, 2017 | 6-8pm
Exhibition Dates: March 18- April 29, 2017
19 Karen Contemporary Artspace
19 Karen Ave, Mermaid Beach
Gold Coast, QLD 4218
Tell us about your background, and what led you to the world of art?
I grew up as that ‘artsy kid throughout my schooling years, but it wasn’t until a few years ago where I decided that I wanted to pursue my childhood dream of art, which is almost a story in itself. I was first introduced to art way back when I was around 5 years old or so. My now sister-in-law, taught me how to draw Sailor Moon, an anime character which was hugely popular in the 90’s. She showed me in one of those step-by-step methods; much like in those “How to Draw Manga” books. From there, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped drawing since. It has only been a few years since I began to fully dedicate myself to my art in hopes of establishing a name for myself in the art world. In those years, I’ve found myself stumbling around, at times completely lost and clueless as what to do next and where to go, but I think I’ve finally managed to find some footing and success among it all, luckily! Which brings us here, today.
You have a close relationship with the beautiful.bizarre team. How has this experience been for you in the lead up to Bitter | Sweet?
Truthfully, I know the Editor-in-Chief of beautiful.bizarre magazine Danijela Krha Purssey personally but the one thing I love the most about working with her is her professionalism. While I recognize her as a friend and colleague, when it comes to her acting as a curator for a show like Bitter | Sweet, she switches on to become an insightful mentor, an intelligent critic and inspiring art director. As I’m still quite new to the whole sphere of professional artists, I find myself stumbling quite a bit with my sense of direction at times, with so much to learn. It’s honestly an absolute privilege to be presented with the opportunity of working under the guidance of someone in the industry. I’ve been able to learn so much more about myself as an artist, and my professional practice and methods. But by far, the best part about working with beautiful.bizarre acting as curators for the show is knowing how much the artists are cared for and the support that is readily available. Throughout the whole process, the decisions, advice and critiques have all been with the clear intention of furthering our individual successes as artists. I think that’s one of the best parts… to know that you and your work are valued, especially in an industry that can be so cold at the best of times.
WIP of “Absence” for the ‘Bitter | Sweet’ exhibition
Your completed works for the show are AMAZING. How did you interpret the theme to create your two pieces and why?
When I thought about Bitter | Sweet, I recognized it initially as the idea of dichotomy or of something like opposites. But, it made me think of what the feeling of bittersweetness actually is like, and it made me realize that it’s not something so clear cut like black and white, it’s something that encapsulates both the good, and bad. I questioned myself for a time where I felt something like that, and it made me think of what it feels like to lose someone we love. With confronting something like this, there’s the 5 Stages of Grief, the Kübler-Ross model, which begins with Denial, and ends with Acceptance. At the beginning, we’re overwhelmed with the pain of recognizing the absence of that person. But, as time passes, we progress onto the next few stages… we heal, and the feelings that accompany the memory of the ones we lose shift to something more. We learn instead to accept their presence in our memories. For me, the experience of losing someone and coming to terms with it represented both the bitter, and the sweet.
Watercolour, gouache, graphite, coloured pencil and ink on Arches paper, 50 x 50 cm
Watercolour, gouache, graphite, coloured pencil and ink on Arches paper, 50 x 50 cm
Where does your humility come from? Is it shyness or do you like to stay away from the limelight?
Whenever I receive positive feedback of sorts, I find it a little difficult to take in, and I think a huge factor for that is my upbringing. Growing up, my brothers and I weren’t exactly praised for our successes, nor were we punished for our failures really. Misbehaviour though, boy we were definitely punished for that, don’t you worry! As children, our parents left us very much to our own independent selves. We described it as an ‘unsupervised freedom,’ being ”nurtured by neglect.’ For example, with my mum, I could come home with an A+ in my grades and she’d simply nod her head, and if I came home with a ‘barely passing’ grade, she’d still react just the same. Just as long as we didn’t fail. In ways it desensitized us to the idea that we were more than we really were, and attuned us to the idea of normalcy at the same time. At school, I’d be praised for my artistic ability, but at home my mum was indifferent. So that whenever I did receive a compliment for my work or anything I did, I found it difficult to accept and understand. Looking back, I think it was a good thing that we were raised like that, because it made me strive to work harder and be better at everything I did, so one day she could be proud!
Do you tend to work with particular themes in your pieces, or is each piece created organically in the moment?
Both actually. I like to create work spontaneously in the moment. My work is very much so driven by my current emotional state, governed by how I feel my mood and my thoughts that occupy me at any given time. These can be some of the most enjoyable forms of working because it’s a direct, organic expression or feed from my thoughts to pen and paper. I tend to find myself gravitating towards exploring emotional vulnerability. I use the female figure in all its beauty, coupled with specific colour palettes and symbolism whether through aspects of nature, patterns or visual elements, all to express a certain emotions. They’re driven by the emotions that are invoked from my memories, current experiences or events in my life that are often hard to explain through words, like insecurities, the feeling of liberation, or even the experience of losing someone.
What is your favourite medium to work with?
Watercolour, for sure! Much like most artists, I started out just drawing with pencils. It wasn’t until high school that I discovered the world of digital art, and that soon became my primary medium of choice. It wasn’t until the year 2012, where I first got my taste of watercolour in high school art class. We were required to explore different mediums outside of our comfort zone. I loved digital art as a medium for its precision and its limitlessness for things like colour at the click of a finger, which is why I hated traditional painting mediums for every opposite reason above. But the moment I experimented watercolour, I found myself mesmerized by how spontaneous, how accidental and how chaotic it all was. It stood against everything I loved about digital art, which is what I found so strangely therapeutic about it. Soon enough, I found myself growing more in love with the medium, even to this very day.
Excerpts from Hieu’s sketchbook
Tell us about a real life experience that has inspired you and your work.
My family trip to Vietnam last year inspired my current direction for my work. My parents were from Vietnam, so it was quite eye opening to be immersed into my own roots. I found myself confronted by a culture shock amidst all the drowning noise, the chaotic clutter and overwhelming crowdedness that was Vietnam. But, that was part of what was so charming about the country—it was vibrant, alive and bustling. Strangely enough, it was almost calming to be lost in it all. Vietnam was a whole different world to where I grew up, and it made me realize that it was a culture that was inherently my own and part of who I am. There was this poetic beauty in Vietnamese art, design and music. Textiles, patterns and floral arrangements are so deeply rooted in the visual language of the country. If you dissected even the traditional garb of the local women, ao dai, you understand the layers of design that go towards it. They embraced colour, patterns, and details that you’d never see anyone in Melbourne daring to walk around in. I grew up in Melbourne, so I was exposed to very specific Westernized art forms, even standards of beauty and stylistic preferences. For instance, here, we embrace things like minimalism in design and street fashion, but there it’s a complete different story. I found myself in a state of conflict. My work at the time was gradually developing towards a more Western stylistic direction, but I found myself wanting to embrace this newfound inspiration from the Vietnamese art culture, almost like an identity crisis. This is why now I am redefining my style by embracing my own heritage, along with my own Australian nationality.
You have a huge following… what are the most memorable responses you have had on your work?
I remember vividly the first time ever meeting a follower of mine by chance in real life. I was on my break at work and decided to visit my friend who worked around the corner at an art store. We were chatting for a few minutes at the counter. A girl then came and stood nearby behind me while my friend and I were still talking. A little while later, she politely bumped in and said something like, “excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt but are you that, kelogsloops guy?’ At this moment, I’m not sure if my heart sank or skyrocketed, but my emotions were everywhere. I was so unprepared. I have never been that embarrassed or nervous. After stuttering all over the place and making a complete fool of myself, I managed to respond weakly with a ‘yes.’ She then went on enthusiastically to exclaim that she loved my work, and that it was even her phone wallpaper, which she showed me too! It was a surreal experience because it made me realise that the impact of my work on people was actually real. The thing with social media is that it’s so easy to hide behind a screen, an online alias. You don’t really realize the actual impact of what you do in the real world. For me, that moment was realizing that there was really someone out there in the world that loved my work so.
What is your dream project?
One day, I’d like to teach aspiring artists. Not like in a school setting (actually, I’d love that too!) but rather like a mentor of some sort. I think one of my biggest obstacles in my artistic journey thus far was the lack of role models, or at least the accessibility of them and how to find them. As teens, we were confronted at the end of high school with this sense of impending doom in the form of a question, ‘what is it that you want with your life?’ At the time, I would have loved to been able to say what I truly wanted, which would have been something like ‘to be an artist and draw every day.’ But, my belief really was that artists were something like a mythical creature. It was embedded so deeply in my mind that art was in no way possible a fathomable career and that nobody was as stupid to do something so silly. So naturally, my answer was something that basically equated to ‘I want to have a real job.’ But if I had known that there was truly a whole entire industry, a sphere in the world where people truly do still value art and celebrate it for everything that it is, maybe I would have answered that question differently. I somehow managed to stumble into the secretive art world almost blindly, because it wasn’t until I decided to pursue my dream and immersed myself into the art world that I discovered artists really do exist, and that it was a prospective career after all. I think that if we had more role models to look up to, visibly in the public eye, confused teens and children would recognize that their dreams like that are valid and really are possible, and that artists really do exist, and that they’re not all dead. So my dream project is to one day be able to share my experience, my artistic journey from being that ignorant teenager, to wherever it is that I end up (fingers crossed, somewhat successful!) I want to do so because I wish I had someone like that to look up to for advice when I was confronted with that question.
Name two artists who you would like to be compared to. Who are your biggest art crushes?
Lois van Baarle, and Wenqing Yan. No wait, Silvia Pelissero and Anna Dittmann! No seriously, this is a ridiculously difficult question. Let’s just go with Wenqing Yan and Silvia Pelissero, for now… these two artists will forever be viewed as immortal masters in my mind, and rightfully so! Wenqing Yan, who also goes by the online alias, yuumei, was one of my earliest inspirations in my digital art, still to this very day. I remember when I first got my Wacom tablet, I tried one of her “How to draw Eyes” tutorials and became obsessed with digital art immediately. Silvia Pelissero, who is also known as Agnes Cecile, is probably singlehandedly the reason why I wanted to try watercolour in the first place. If I could ever be on the same page, let alone spoken in the same sentence as any of these artists, I’d die happily.
Do you have plans for a career in Animation?
I’m only just entering my second year of studying the degree, so fingers crossed, there is a future career in Animation for me! My childhood dream has been to one day see my own name in the rolling credits of a Disney film, which is probably something a lot of artists can relate to. Of course, that’s just a dream. Once I finish my Bachelor’s degree, I want to pursue a career in the animation industry, hopefully in a studio that works in film, whilst working on establishing my name in the fine art world.
Can you tell us about upcoming projects?
Excitingly enough, I am currently working on my own upcoming, debut solo show! Dates and details are yet to be confirmed, but it’s projected to be held early June this year at the Fezilla Studio Gallery over in Melbourne. It follows my earlier discussion about my trip to Vietnam and the influence it had on me. I wanted this year to be the time I redefine the direction of my work, and I think that this exhibition will provide the perfect opportunity to do so. It’s a chance for me to define who I am as an artist, and what my work truly stands for and of course in the beautiful.bizarre exhibition, BITTER | SWEET at 19 Karen Gallery in Australia, opening March 18th. You can also follow my work Website, Facebook and Instagram!
10 Quick Questions GO!
If you were an animal what would you be and why?
A turtle, because they’re my favourite animal!
What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
A sea snail. They’re so uncomfortable to eat.
Best outdoor festival you’ve been to?
Splendour in the Grass, 2016!
What do you miss most about being a child?
Being carefree and blissfully ignorant!
If money were no object, what’s the first thing you would buy?
A lifetime supply of strawberries.
No wait, a turtle sanctuary.
No, a puppy sanctuary!
NO, a puppy & turtle sanctuary, that has an inbuilt farm that supplied me with a lifetime of strawberries!
Which famous person would you love to meet?
Chris Martin of Coldplay. Not only is he part of my favourite band, he seems so down to earth, genuine, humbling and funnily polite.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Daft Punk – One More Time
Best way to relax?
Listening to music while stargazing.
3 things you would take on a desert Island?
My family, my puppy/turtle/strawberry farm/sanctuary, and Coldplay, so they could play my favourite songs live!