Loc Huynh draws charming scenes inspired by his family history
Influenced by his upbringing as a second generation Vietnamese-American, the artist paints fishing trips with his grandpa, the food his mother used to cook and the dog that always tried to eat it.
- Ayla Angelos
- 14 December 2021
In Loc Huynh’s portfolio, there are a few motifs that seem to pop up quite regularly. A dog named Downy being one, that’s usually peeping in the corner with its tongue out, sniffing the dinner as it’s prepped on the table. Then there’s the food, perhaps one of the most visited elements to Loc’s work, which is usually being held, chopped and cooked by his mother. “My latest body of work revolves my family history, my upbringing as a second generation Vietnamese-American and a reflective look at nostalgia,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I choose to paint what I know best, and what do I know better than my personal experiences?”
Loc was born in Austin, Texas and grew up in the suburbs just outside of the city. Having long nurtured an interest in the arts, his first foray into the industry was while making graphics for his musician friends, such as shirt designs, album covers and posters. “I joke about how I started doing art because I was not good at skateboarding,” he says, “and I was not a skilled a guitarist.” Drawing, by this means, was a way of cementing himself into the music subculture without actually playing any instruments. Next, Loc decided to study at Texas State University and acquired a MFA at University of North Texas last year. Currently based in Houston, he’s now a resident artist at the Lawndale Art Center.
So in this most recent body of work, we’re seeing Loc’s past experiences come to life through the 2D form. It’s a process that allows him to reconnect with his memories, drawing from a “lens of appreciation” that he didn’t have when he was a kid. His mother and dog, in this sense, have become reoccurring motifs for the artist which “represents a symbol of unconditional love, with Downy almost being a surrogate for me in these paintings”. The ones that portray a more interior, kitchen-based scene – where eating and cooking take centre stage – are what Loc peers to as genre paintings, “like those of Vermeer, but through the perspective of Asian-American household. I try to use these as a way to honour the quiet labour of working in a kitchen.”
Loc has managed to garner a unique aesthetic of his own, one that’s playfully bold, blocky and textured with the odd gradient tossed in here and there. He likes to use a plethora of colours, from lilac to blue, pearly green to peach pinks, to depict his settings – most of which are joyful and happy, sprinkled with the day’s sunshine or humbling activity. While devising the content for one of his works, he’ll often go out for a walk with his mother on the phone, talking as he meanders through the city. Enlivening him with a spark of inspiration, he finds this method to be just as important as visiting a museum or reading an art theory book. Otherwise, he also looks at the work of painters, cartoon imagery and graphic art if he needs an extra dose of inspiration.
For an exhibition in New York, Loc completed a series of paintings called Downy ơi!, a collection of works based on his mother eating traditional Vietnamese cakes and how Downy the dog would go up and beg for a bite. They’re charming, sweet and apt in the way in captures a particular memory. Loc says, “ơi! is often a phrase of frustration, akin to ‘ugh’, and I just think that it’s funny when my mum would integrate some of these Viet colloquialisms into English phrases.” This playful and nostalgic tone can be seen in one of Loc’s paintings named Downy ơi! (Bánh Bò Nướng ), favourited for the saturated hues and pink shades. “I also really like the way Downy came out in this one, he looks really small compared to my mother in this picture.”
Another one, titled Catfish on the Lake, is notably different to his previous works due to it being presented in landscape format. It’s also an interior scene that reminds Loc of his time spent with his grandpa, and how he loved to go fishing. “He used to take the family, or show us what he caught during his outings, and I remember him bringing home large catfish and bass,” he recalls. The piece, as joyful as ever, was shown as part of a group exhibition at Martha’s Contemporary in Austin, Texas.
From hearing more about the process and ideation behind Loc’s work, it comes to show that art really does has the power to transport you to other places – especially the memories logged in the past. After all, Loc sees himself as a storyteller, and what better ways to tell captivating and relatable stories than through the visual image. “It excites me when people tell me that the pictures I paint of my mother reminds them of their own, or the food I paint is familiar to the dishes of someone else. To this degree, I feel like my work is also a bridge for shared experiences and connecting people to one another.”
GalleryCopyright © Loc Huynh, 2021
Copyright © Loc Huynh, 2021
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.