Kim Nguyen moved back from Colorado just because she missed Grand Rapids, and she’s been diving deeper into the local art scene ever since, from First Fridays to ArtPrize and Grand Rapids Zine Fest. Nguyen loves to experiment, describing her style as versatile thanks to her many interests. She’s garnered attention with both her ArtPrize entry, Quest Phasing, and her Mom Zine, a delightful collection of conversations with her mother. Nguyen will have her first solo show next year at MadCap Coffee.
What did Quest Phasing mean to you?
At that time, I was feeling depressed and isolated, even though it was all in my head, but I wanted to express that. And I’d never done anything really big, so I wanted to test myself to see if I could draw something on a larger scale. … For the triptych, I wanted to go through an evolution from the first one to the third. It’s about letting go of what ties you down and negative stress around you. The triptych is like an avatar, and the one on the top, it’s not really me, but it kind of is. All the people in the background are looking away from her, that’s the isolation.
What’s your process like?
The way I go about things, I see a piece of what I want. Like, I knew I wanted to do a lot of details for the triptych, and I wanted to draw floral stuff, and I also like videogames, and I wanted it to be a mixture of traditional and digital. So the triptych is done by graphite and pen, and then I scanned it in and digitally colored it. I’m really fickle when it comes to color, so I like to experiment, which is why I like digital. And I like saturation, really bright colors, and you can’t achieve that at the same level (with traditional).
You’ve mentioned that there’s a sort of ‘stigma’ around digital art. What do you mean by that?
A lot of times, people look down on digital because it’s so easy to manipulate. I get that with traditional means you can’t just undo or delete stuff — it takes a lot more investing. But it’s 2017, digital art needs to start being seen as real art. You still need skills to draw, to be able to translate that into digital. I remember First Fridays a couple months ago, they did a show that was all digital art and I was super grateful for that.
Can you explain the Mom Zine?
She is an immigrant from Vietnam and there was a language barrier between us growing up. She’s very eccentric, and she cracks me up, so I wanted other people to laugh too and I also wanted other children of immigrants to feel like it was relatable.
In the grand scheme of things, where would you like your art to take you?
Someday I want to be a freelance illustrator, but I’m so bad at selling myself. I want to go to conventions and have a table there. I really love the culture of conventions. But I need to bring someone who can do the talking for me. (Laughter.) I’d also like to do a graphic novel, and murals are cool
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Sachin Teng, he has more of a painterly style, so I look to his art for that inspiration. He also mixes his stuff with graphic design, which I admire. I like James Jean — he’s just so good. For cartoonists, I like Sam Bosma’s work a lot, and Jake Wyatt. Michael DeForge is a totally different style from me, but I really love what he’s doing. And Hellen Jo and Victo Ngai, they’re both Asian artists. Victo Ngai is super detailed, really elaborate pen drawings and uses flat colors. And Hellen Jo does mostly watercolor drawings of Asian women, but being like punk badasses.
Why do you make art?
If I wasn’t doing art, I would be very depressed. It’s a way to let out my emotions. I’ve just always been a creative person and don’t understand what people do if they don’t have any means to release those emotions.