Artist Spotlight: An Interview with Truc-Anh
Interview by Lidia Fabian for Artist Pension Trust Global, 2013
Truc-Anh is a French artist born in Paris in 1983. His parents left Vietnam 40 years ago. Today, he lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background: who are you? What is your art?
My name is Truc-Anh, a vietnamese (girl) name with a dash, because in France, where I grew up, nobody understood that “Anh” was not my family name. I kept it that way and as my artist name.
I started to study art in Paris, France, at the “Ecole Boule”, the National School of Applied Arts. I stopped to become a dancer, I wanted to understand the concept of “total art”. In 2001, however, I finally decided to study at La Cambre, National School of Visual Arts in Brussels, Belgium.
In 2006, I was studying at two schools in two different countries... Legally it was forbidden. But I did not want to lose my time. The other school was “L’Ecal” in Lausanne, Switzerland, where I did my postgraduate studies. It was funny and exhausting at the same time, I always had to travel by train between the two cities for the exams with all my work...
I did my Bachelor, Master and passed the aggregation for teaching. Today, I teach a little bit of painting La Cambre and keep on teaching in various contexts. Pedagogy is very important to me. I know that talking is an important part of how people receive my work. I create my paintings like enigmas, and not answers. Paintings can not only be the illustration of a concept, but have to erase it. It should not be held by the viewer. Not even by me.
I am better at my work when I am “discovering”. If I know where I’m going, I become mediocre. I always try to challenge my brain to let go something about common habits, do painting the opposite way, reverse colors, and push myself to make some mistakes. It’s like.. a little death and a little birth at the same time.
Q: What do you mean by “enigma”?
I believe that a painting has to challenge you over the course of time. Today, 90% of images are "ready to think", “prêt-à-penser”. The concept itself has turned into crutches and statements like some slogan. I believe it’s a huge mistake, because the eye of the viewer becomes passive. A piece of art should resist the consumption mechanism.
Q: Where are you right now?
I am in Paris because I had an opening last week, at Galerie Sator. It’s a big set up of works of mostly black-and-white paintings called “Friends”, with images of ghosts and creatures I used to imagine when I was a child. I grew up in a big dark house, and I started painting this “appearances” that came to me, even on the wall. I was imagining these creatures would fill the obscure emptiness I was surrounded with. This was my first relationship to art.
...and you called them “friends”?
Yes, because they surrounded me, they were present, they became my friends. I am working on another series called Ghost, which is a photo serie of my "real" friends.. I haven’t published it yet. I finished the set when I wasn’t scared of ghosts anymore. My relationship to them is the foundation of my own mythology. I use my own little history to question a larger history. The history of painting, the history of figuration: how can I make a portrait today? Is it still possible to create something? Of course the answer is yes.
Q: Why did you move to Ho-Chi-Minh City?
The main reason was because I wanted to live far away from the Western art scene, I am a very competitive person, but I know it’s not good for my work. It’s very hard to think differently when you are inside the system.
Q: What do you consider as the system? Why the need to get away?
In France, there’s a tradition to divide and to set up a hierarchy. Rationality is superior to sensoriality for example. They are very afraid to fall in an excess of emotion, but for me it is the only way to access to sublime. Even if you’re a minimalist, you have to be strongly emotionally committed to your work. The French are afraid to be criticized. And it’s not that I particularly like it, but I am looking for it.
In Belgium, the surrealist's heritage nourishes a lot of the artist into an anti-heroic posture. But I used to be, and I still am, quite the opposite – I always wanted to be a hero.
I had the same feelings toward the Neo Geo movement in Switzerland. In my own way, I was always eager to learn and challenge my practice, but at the same, I felt a strong confrontation.
Q: Did your work change since you live in Vietnam?
My painting changed not because I am in Vietnam, but because I am a happier person. And it’s not a question about being well or being unwell. I created many works in “pain”, and I consider them good. Art is not always connected to pleasure; it can even be the opposite.
It was also important to me that my first exhibition wouldn’t be about Vietnam. I don't want to feed the demand of “exotic” work. I don’t create contemporary installations about the Vietnam War for example, but paintings about personal matters. It’s a political gesture from my side.
Q: Tell us why you joined APT?
My gallerist told me that Moti Shniberg, co-founder and Chairman of APT, would like to meet me, and I think it was a big part of why I am part of APT. I have a very “human” relationship with APT. The system is very criticized in France, but I like the risk. I like the challenge of creating new economic models and new channels. And I am also impressed by the fact that someone had the courage to create a company like APT. And through APT, I have the opportunity to be part of projects I wouldn’t necessarily be otherwise.