Hà Ninh interviewed by Alyssa Ebinger

Alyssa Ebinger: “I’ve heard you mention the difference between artwork in Vietnam and Western Art, can you briefly explain the difference?”

Ha-Ninh Pham: “Yes, I think that’s interesting to me. I think that the art environment in Vietnam is much smaller. We just started to open to the outside world, in the 90’s and early 21st century. A lot of modern art movements came to Vietnam. I think I was developing at that chaotic period of time and I saw that a lot of things happened in Vietnam in a short amount of time. I was really overwhelmed and disoriented by that. Meanwhile the history of American modern art is much longer so I don’t really see a big difference between the generations of artists here.”

AE: “Was it hard for you to come to school here? Did you do any adjusting of your artwork?”

HP: “Yes, I think my art, my process, my work totally changed in my first year. My first year was a big change for me. I had to adapt myself to almost every single thing here, especially the food, the schedule, the lifestyle. I feel like my metabolism has been totally changed forever, a lot of things I have to get used to.”

AE: “Your first year you did a lot of painting and you did some printmaking and now this year you are doing more drawing. What made you do that transition?”

HP: “I was trained like a Western painter when I was in my undergrad. But I could not see Western paintings in person. When I came to United States I feel like painting has a really long tradition in western painting and I see that. That made me exited at first, but it ended up being an existential crisis. I don’t really fit in with that tradition. I moved away from painting and I do drawing now because I think drawing is much more universal. People form the cave and the cave drawing that they drew a long time ago and right now we are still doing drawing. That’s the reason why I decide to change.”

AE: “You moved on to these really large-scale drawings. Do you get your inspiration from memory or do you work from photos, or is it a combination or imagination?”

HP: “I avoid working from photograph. I think I avoid working from observation in general. Most of my works are memories or kind of an imagined world that I can’t take from photograph. So it doesn’t relate anything to the reality. Before I painted small and then I decided to make my work bigger. I think that when I face something bigger I can feel some kind of sense of real world in front of me instead of an actual object.

AE: “When you start your drawings do you know what they are going to look like? Or do you just start drawing and it builds from there?”

HP: “I work either way. I think I plan a lot but improvisations happen too.”

AE: “What are you hoping to achieve with these large scale drawing that you weren’t able to get in your paintings?”

HP: “I want to make it like a map and I think a map should be big. I really want it to be complicated enough to convince people that it’s a real world. Sometimes we look at a map we don’t understand a map but we believe that the map is relating to something that is real. I really like that idea, I want to persuade people that the world I create is something you can believe in its existence.”

AE: “Are you looking at any artist for inspiration?”

HP: “Yes, a lot. Some examples are Paul Noble, Trenton Doyle Hancock. I think it’s strange because two artists are doing different kinds of drawing. Because I really like drawing I don’t really see a big difference between them.”

AE: “Do you see yourself trying any new mediums anytime soon? Last year you did a sculpture and printmaking or like incorporating printmaking into your drawings? Or for now is it just focusing on drawing?”

HP: “The only feature I want to work with in the next few months is that I want to imbed the drawings with the process of web making. I want to make some project that has drawing which you can go to the website to see them in a series.”

AE: “Has there been a show that you have seen recently that you’ve really enjoyed or helped inspire any of your artwork?”

HP: “Yes, I went to a show in Vietnam and he’s my friend. He has kind of the same feelings I have. He feels like he is living in a chaotic period of time that he cannot trust anything around him. I am really interested in what he is making and he is one of my favorite artists.”

AE: “Do you find it beneficial to attend galleries and openings frequently or do you set a goal to once a week go to a gallery or do you go when you feel like you need the inspiration?”

HP: “I like to go to the gallery openings because I want to talk to people. I think that talking to artists is much more important than seeing the work alone. I really appreciate the connection between the artists. I really want have connections here in the United States, but because of my language skills I cannot do it fluently, I will try my best to improve it. In Vietnam I do it really well to have a connection with people and connected with what they say about their work.”

AE: “Is there an element of your art or a subject matter that you enjoy working with the most? When you’re doing these maps, what is your favorite part about making them?”

HP: “Usually in my maps I create a territory that I claim that is mine and that is the most interesting part. In my work I can put some flags and claim that its my land, its my land, its my land and so I feel like wow I really love it and I have a lot!”

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