Born in Laos. Grew up in the U.S.
Discovered Drawing and Art at an early age.
(These are some really old interviews, but I thought I would repost them to share! I don’t think much has changed in my world view on things, just glad to still be alive and still pursuing this art thing. 🙂 )
This is an interview from Lao Roots Magazine:
Lao Roots Magazine: Can you tell us a little about your background (i.e. where did you grow up, how was it like)?
BV: I was born in Sithantay, a village outside Vientiane, Laos. We fled Laos when I was around 3, lived in the Nongkhai refugee camp for a while and finally settled in the Southeast United States. I grew up in a small town in Northeast Georgia.
LRM: Is there a large population of Laotians where you live?
BV: I’ve been living in Georgia for over 20 years, and yes, there’s a big population. In the metro Atlanta area we have 3 temples and there are also prominent Lao and Hmong communities away from the big city.
LRM: What kind of artist do you consider yourself? Do you prefer one medium over another?
BV: I’ve always been into drawing, and always considered myself an artist first and foremost, just because of the way I live life. Art isn’t something you can ever be the best at, and it isn’t the easiest field to make a living in, but the joys of creating it and sharing it go beyond material things.
I really like drawing so I’m more into pencil, pen and ink, and charcoal. I also consider the computer a tool because it gives me so much control over how the final work is going to look like, and it gives me an unlimited number of crayons so to speak.
I’m not yet at the stage in my life where I am doing “Laotian” art, as in the traditional stuff. Maybe one day. I can’t deny that I’m a Lao kid that grew up in America. Even though I’m reminded every day of our parents’ lives and struggles, if I did art that just used that symbolism and other Lao-ness as a gimmick, without experiencing it firsthand, I feel that it would be dishonest to myself and to my viewers. I’m an artist that happens to be Lao, that likes all sorts of things and has grown up on a diet of popular culture as well as old world culture.
LRM: How did you get into drawing/sketching?
BV: When we first moved to the states our family would go visit the local flea markets (swap meets) for clothes and other household items. Back then, comic books were everywhere, and even with a dollar, I could come home with a big stack and read them day and night. I was just amazed at the pictures and their graphic impact.
LRM: When did you first pick up a camera and what camera was it?
BV: Back in high school my dad gave me an old Minolta SLR from the 1980’s. It was top notch technology back then (and still is today) and I had great fun taking it everywhere.
LRM: What camera do you currently use?
BV: Just like any brand loyalty out there, people choose different companies for different reasons. Some tuners like Toyota over Honda, most DJ’s like Technics, but for me, for most of my work I prefer Nikon. Cameras, cars, and computers are the same thing, you always wonder about the other side of the fence, but the most important thing is finding the tool that works for you and sticking with it.
LRM: What do you like most about being a photographer?
BV: Photography is just so pervasive in this day and age. Imaging devices are everywhere and I feel that although we might be further adding to the endless pile of junk out there, these are our lives, and no matter how mundane or silly they may be to others, there are still moments worth capturing.
LRM: Who are some of your influences as an artist?
BV: Stan Lee, while technically not a visual artist, created the comic book universe that I grew up immersed in as a kid. His characters were gifted, yet inside, normal everyday people with problems, and me as a kid, more exact, a Laotian kid with our own immigrant struggles growing up in a small town, I really connected with that. Peter Parker, though not a real person, is a big influence. Spidey is just the suit. Peter has money problems, girl problems and takes photos for a living, so you can see the connection.
To further add to my dorkiness, I’m not too keen on post modern abstract art, love movies, Manga, the packaging of Japanese candy, videogames, and listen to a lot of music. To redeem myself with the fine art crowd, the chiaroscuro techniques of the old Renaissance masters has always been a huge influence.
LRM: Do you work exclusively with digital film or you do you still use regular films?
BV: I rarely use film these days, except for the occasional black and white roll. It gives you a different look, but honestly for the work that I enjoy, digital is the way to go. The goal is for the work to end up in a computerized format, so you can save yourself lots of time.
LRM: What first inspired your interest in photography and sketching? What continues to inspire you?
BV: I started at an early age, and to this day I still haven’t lost that passion to better myself as an artist. Maybe people who are into playing the guitar or martial arts can relate. What inspires me and makes me feel happy and at the same time a tad bittersweet, is when I see little kids draw and color. There’s so much honesty in their work and no matter their skill level there is a purity in that enjoyment that reminds me of when we were young.
LRM: Are you self taught or did you go to school to enhance your skills?
BV: I just drew all the time when I was younger, and graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Drawing and Painting. That really doesn’t mean anything, as Michelangelo once said, “Ancora Imparo.”
LRM: Did your early photographic goals include earning a living from photography, or did it start as a way to express yourself creatively?
BV: When I was in high school I carried the camera around everywhere and was the designated photographer for my friend’s band, to simple pictures of us hanging out or cutting school, so it’s always been about having fun.
LRM: What quick advice do you have for someone who simply wants to improve their photography skills?
BV: Except for some instances, the camera doesn’t really matter. Composition, lighting, and emotion are most important. Most beginners tend to frame the picture with too much space above the subject.
LRM: What is your favorite subject to take pictures of?
BV: Lots of things, but as most people can tell I really enjoy taking pictures of people. Yes, the pretty girls are obvious, but over the last couple of years I feel that it’s my duty to cover and archive the Laotian events that happen in our communities. Laos is such an underrepresented country and culture in even the Asian context, and I just feel like there should be someone to document all of this. It is a moving and touching juxtaposition when you can have in the same photo album, our refugee photos and photos in America.
LRM: Any words for aspiring artists out there?
BV: Good art takes time, and it also extends far beyond the borders of the paper.
LRM: How can people contact you?
BV: The easiest way to contact me is to just walk up to me. 🙂 I like to think that I’m approachable. Too many photographers are locked behind their gear and their egos and too many artists think that the goal in life is to end up on a gallery wall. Life is so much more than that, and our artistic and creative endeavors can help in so many more ways. Kawp chai lai lai (Thank you very much!)
This is an older article from Asian American Press. Interview by Bryan Thao Worra.
AAP: What are you working on right now?
BV: At the moment I am trying to balance the duty of punching the time clock and working on my projects in my spare time. Art has become supplemental to my life, but that does not mean it has become less important. I still draw people in my life, people I meet, and people I will never see again.
AAP: How long have you been painting/illustrating?
BV: I’ve been trying to figure out this thing called art for the last 20 something years.
AAP: You’ve created a lot of pieces over the years. Do you have a personal favorite?
BV: I believe I am similar to other creative people in that I find it hard to like anything I create. There’s always something wrong, something that could be better. There isn’t a single work that I could call a favorite, but when viewed as a whole, I see the progression and I do feel a sense of accomplishment. As far as something that I treasure, I do like my “home movies,” because of the way it so easily captures our silly little lives.
AAP: What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?
AAP: What got you started in art?
BV: When we first moved to the U.S., I found great joy in spinning the comic book rack and seeing all those incredible images.
AAP: How would you describe your creative process?
BV: In recent years, art making has become intermixed into my lifestyle of just going to places and having fun. Creating art is so much easier when there isn’t a grade or a motive behind it. Life is complicated enough, and art can be recreational as it is serious. My current theme still involves people, but the methods are a little different than drawing from the head or traditional figure drawing in front of a model. I do drawings from my photographs, and turn them back into photographs. By that I’m referring to the physical aspect, and the thematic angle. In a sort of simple explanation, I try to do good art from bad photos. True photographs can be judge by different standards and aesthetics, and I try to bring credible drawings into the realm of the bad snapshots located in every photo album across the land.
AAP: What do you look for most in your own art?
BV: Drawing for me is probably what playing a musical instrument is like for others. I just enjoy it because it’s a whole lot better than spending my time doing other things, even if it gives me that life sustaining thing called money.
It’s not the idea of art being mysterious and arcane, some kind of romantic fiction constantly embellished in movies and television, it’s just that art making is a good excuse not to join the masses in their race towards some non-descript finish line.
AAP: What role, if any, do you see your Laotian heritage playing in your work? Has your family been supportive of your art?
BV: What I have come to realize is that our parents have seen worse, and we have seen better. Laboring at a difficult job is common for most of the older generation, a duty they maintain solely for their family. They have lived through hardships of a different magnitude, while their children grow up bombarded with images of easy wealth and success. Being Lao/Asian-American, whatever you would like call it, has caused me to constantly wonder what is right for self and for family. Art making is not exactly the easiest field to make a living in, and most Asian families are very practical. In the reality of paying bills and keeping your head above water, it is hard to explain to others that art is a passion that one does for the sake of doing, even if there are not any apparent monetary rewards.
AAP: Who are some of your favorite artists?
BV: Too numerous to mention, but I would like to express my love of music and other pop culture media. At some point in our early life, we get exposed to artists from different eras, most with foreign names and a book or two seemingly devoted solely to provide fodder for exams and term papers. The art that we obsess over today is broadcasted and packaged and sold. To some it might seem sad, but graphic art, cinema, and interactive entertainment stimulate the youth of today more than a painting in a gallery.
AAP: What do you hope your audience will walk away with after seeing your work?
BV: Just their own ideas and views.
AAP: Do you have any advice for younger artists?
BV: There are many displaced young adults, most who were the main characters so to speak, frequenting restaurants and other hangouts, now demoted to bit parts in the background. Life hasn’t become what they’d imagined, I can attest to this. Just be creative, write everyday, take as many pictures as you can, try not to squander the days given, but most of all, have fun.