Conversation with the Artist: Truong Buu Giam
Many of your paintings seem to swirl, as if you were combining different techniques. What is your process, and how did you develop it?
When I attended the National College of Fine Arts in Saigon, South Vietnam, I chose my study major to be the Vietnamese traditional style of water color on silk. The technique of water color on silk was difficult to control because throughout the process, colors were applied and blended on wet silk.
The silk is set to dry, then washed, but will retain some stains of colors. Then, colors are applied again and the process is repeated many times until the colors dye to the fiber of the silk.
From this technique of wet to dry watercolor on silk, I have learned to control the flow and blend liquid colors on wet surfaces. When I discovered epoxy paint - a liquid resin that floats like water and has a beautiful effect, at a demo at an art supply store in 1998, I started using it.
I play with colors – pouring the liquid resin and gold and silver powder to create beautiful abstract patterns, and from there I accent and complement the patterns with subject matter and balance the colors to finish the work.
Where did you get the idea to use metallic colors, like gold and silver?
Using metallic colors is a technique borrowed from Vietnamese lacquer art. But traditionally, these metallic colors are used alongside dark, bold colors (dark blue or black) instead of the light pastel colors that I paint with. You can see that in my painting “Spiritual Journey”, I use the gold powder to highlight the effect of the beautiful sunlight reflecting off the desert sand and rocks.
When did you decide to become an artist? Can you pinpoint the time, place and reason you chose this life – or was it a decision made over time?
When I was a child, I attended a Christian pre-school named “Bethany”. All my teachers were Catholic nuns – I called them “Ma Soeur”. They loved my drawings and encouraged me to embrace drawing and painting.
My father was a veterinarian in my home town of Vung Tau, located about 75 miles southeast of Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam. He was an animal lover, and we had a hobby farm, so I spent my childhood around pet goats, pigs, chickens, and many dogs and many doves of all kinds. I loved them, they were so beautiful.
I frequently made my pets’ portraits and entered into some competitions with the kids in my home town. When I was twelve years old, I won a prize as the best kid artist in my home town at the “Fall Autumn Festival” – a festival for children. Since then, I had thought of becoming an artist. It never crossed my mind how hard an artist life could be, or how hard it is to make a living with this career.
As a refugee from Vietnam starting over in a new country, how difficult was it to establish yourself as a working artist in America? What is your story of starting as a refugee to where you are now?
After the Vietnam War, my brothers and I were sponsored by Mayflower church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When I described to the congregation that I was an artist, the French word for “artist” I used is “painter” (un peintre), so the church give me a job to paint houses! That was my first job when I first came to United States - to make money any way possible.
During Christmas season, I hand painted and sold Christmas cards at the church to make some money. We sold many so quickly, because each card is an original painting. Looking back though, it took me about 15-30 minutes to paint an original card, and we only sold them for $4 for a dozen, included the envelope, so effectively, I was only making $1-2 and hour! But it was a big deal to us then. I was thankful to have a second chance and a new opportunity in a new land, and helping me to train a better skill. I consider myself very fortunate to have enjoyed some success since that time, thanks to the support and love of my family.
I then went back to school at Hennepin Technical Center in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota to study commercial art to make a living. I worked in graphic design for 10 years before starting my own graphics and printing company. In 1992, I experienced business failure, so I used this opportunity to reflect and finally pursue my dream of becoming an artist. I had no money and had to borrow money from my brothers to exhibit my work for the first time at Art Expo in Los Angeles. I told my brothers that if I failed, I will do whatever it takes to pay them back, even work as a pizza delivery driver until I do so.
Luckily, I was met with encouraging early success at Art Expo. I received multiple offers from several international art publishing houses. This was very encouraging and from then on, I was committed to being a full time fine artist. I then was represented by Exclusive Collections gallery in La Jolla, San Diego for 10 years before I decided to self-represent, and I now sell my work at juried art shows around the U.S. and here on my website.