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Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Dec. 26, 200112:00 PM EST

Profile: Quan Duong

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Quan Duong is a an artist at the Brooklyn Arts & Design Center. She uses the studio to paint and show her work.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PAINTING?

“Since the fifth grade. I remember in the first grade I was one of those students who couldn’t speak English. There was a contest and I didn’t understand the whole contest. I was seeing how this girl drew people and it really intrigued me, her ability to draw. Then I became interested in art and the next year I made an effort to win the contest. Ever since then I’ve been trying to draw and get involved in competitions.”

WHO WAS YOUR MAIN INFLUENCE?

“My dad discovered I was interested in art and saw I had a passion for it. He taught me how to use colors and oils. He did a lot of portrait paintings; he was you could say an apprentice to a painter. I would say he’s an artist. He did drafting, sign making, architectural paintings and what not.”

TRAINING

A recent graduate from Jacksonville University, Duong received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts in painting and art history. After backpacking through Europe, Duong studied at the Guggenheim, an art museum in Italy.

WHAT MEDIUM DO YOU USE?

“I used to focus on acrylics because they were safer. Now I use oils because it’s richer in color and has a nice texture to work with. Sometimes I use mixed media, incorporating objects into my work.”

DOES YOUR ART FOLLOW A CERTAIN THEME?

“Right now I am focusing on my culture. I went back to Vietnam over the summer to visit my family and the land where I was born. It’s more figurative painting [depicts human form] than landscapes. There’s no real particular theme. It’s mainly the emotions I want to get out. It’s more of an expression of the way they’re living, the condition of their lifestyle, the emotional anger that I feel or they feel. I do self-portraits as well.”

WHAT IDEA ARE YOU TRYING TO COMMUNICATE?

“My figures all display some kind of emotion. I think people can relate to what I paint because they feel that as well. It’s one of those experiences where you can kind of understand what the artist is feeling and you feel that as well. It becomes a personal experience for them.”

HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERIZE YOUR WORK?

“There are lots of different types of art that people are interested in. Some like minimal art, some like political art, some like impressionist art. I think mine is more applicable to a wider audience. It’s not abstract or minimal. I would hate to call it representational because I’m not trying to represent anything. It’s more narrative. It tells a story.”

GOOD OLD USA

“A lot of artists are returning to their roots and sharing where they’re coming from with others. In America, everyone is from a different culture. Here we can share that and that’s what makes this country great. You see people take certain things from a culture and incorporate it into their style, their food, how they decorate their home. That’s what is so unique about America. I’m grateful to be here because I can have that ability to share what I have and experience what other people are experiencing as well.”

HOMETOWN

Longxuyen, South Vietnam.

REFUGEE

“I came here in 1983. My family left right after the war. Towards the end, everyone wanted to leave because it was a communist state and they were fearing for their lives. My dad invested in boats and did a lot of undercover work. We got on those boats and we had to find different routes to leave without being caught. We would be at sea for days not knowing where we were going or even with little food or water. We were fearful of pirates. There had been instances where the boats were attacked. They would kill all the men and rape the women and throw all the food, jewelry and clothing aboard. We were lucky we didn’t encounter anything like that. My dad stayed behind. My mom, my brother, my sisters and I left. We drifted on to an island, like Malaysia was one of them and then we got a transport to the Philippines. In the Philippines we got sponsored by a church to Oklahoma City. We lived there for awhile and finally my dad was able to escape. I was around seven. I didn’t know I had a dad until he came over. I was really young and didn’t remember.”

CULTURE SHOCK

“Everything was new to me. Coming to America I was picked on by kids because I couldn’t speak English. I wore clothes that didn’t fit and was living in a home infested with bugs in public housing.”

STARTING OVER

“The fun part was when I was in fourth grade my dad said, ‘We’re going to Florida.’ We packed everything in our VW bug and left the past behind.”

SIBLINGS

Duong’s siblings are all good students. Her brother is getting a doctorate in number theory at the University of Illinois, her sister is a senior at Jacksonville University and her youngest sister is a freshman at Stanton High School. All of them went to school on scholarships. Duong is single and resides on the Northside.

OVER THE RAINBOW

Having shown her work in galleries in St. Augustine, Duong aspires to amass a large body of her own originals and secure her master’s degree in fine arts from a college in the Northeast.

DAY JOB

Duong works as the visitor services/retail manager at the Museum of Science and History.

WHAT’S MOST ENJOYABLE ABOUT PAINTING?

“The sense of freedom to be able to express what I want, feel what I want and do what I want. The stress of work: having to be there on time, having to do this and do that, when you paint you don’t have to worry about any of that. It’s this really free-flowing feeling. You can just be creative and relaxed.”

WHAT’S MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT PAINTING?

“Sometimes you have limitations in your work. You can tell something about it that doesn’t look right. You just have to keep working at it. Sometimes you overdo it. You go back and fix it and fix it and it winds up being something you hide behind your closet.”

WHO’S YOUR HERO?

“Maya Lin. She designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in [Washington] D.C. She overcame controversial obstacles to get it built. Now she is a renowned artist and architect and true environmentalist.”

—by Monica Chamness

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