Drawing the City of London – KV Duong
KV Duong is a remarkable artist. His abstract paintings describe emotions, often his own, yet one can enjoy his creations again and again, each time gaining more from them and finding something different that is one’s own.
This is what I’ve found fascinating about his work, that while it focusses on personal identity, migration, sexuality and human relationships, the results do not thrust these upon you, but invite you to explore them. From the glimpses I’ve seen of it, his new work for 10×10 does just that, exploring journeys in London along the Elizabeth Line.KV constructs layers of paint, paper and mixed media to investigate texture, form and materiality. He uses conventional brushes, household items and even his limbs as tools.
Appropriately for the infrastructure focus of this year’s 10×10 event, KV Duong has a background in structural engineering, and works on high rise buildings around the world. He is also passionately artistic. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know him as a colleague at WSP, through his recent art exhibition in the city of London, and through 10×10. KV was kind enough to give an interview for 10×10 in a quiet square in central London.
What does Article 25 mean to you?
“My aunt and her family were boat people from Vietnam. They were in a refugee camp in Thailand before immigrating to Canada. My immediate family and I were sponsored to Canada but my parents lived through the Vietnam War; my mom was shot in the hand when fleeing her home while carrying her younger sister in her arms; my dad was drafted for the war but fortunately turned back for having glaucoma. As immigrants to Canada, my parents sacrificed their comfort to give their children the chance at freedom and opportunity.”
“In parts of the world where we’ve had tragedy – either political or natural disasters – it’s important that human beings living in the more privileged western countries are able to support and give back to people who are less fortunate. I think the objective of Article 25 in supporting countries and people who need them is great, and I can personally relate to that from what my family went through.”
Tell us about the piece that you have donated for 10×10.
“This year’s 10×10 theme is The Elizabeth Line, which matches up so well with my body of work from 2017 – Train Journey Series – so I decided to revamp this collection. The work that I have donated is titled ‘Train Journey no 9: Homecoming’.”
“The concept of the train journey is a metaphor for our life journeys. Happiness, sadness, fear, anger and surprise, these are some of the basic human emotions that we experience in our lives, and these are the experiences portrayed in these works. This specific piece is left deliberately abstract to allow the viewer freedom to think and reflect on what they see and feel in the work – their own personal journey. I painted three black vertical stripes to help evoke some thoughts – train tracks, rails…?”
How do you think the Elizabeth Line will change London?
“Well for starters I’ll be able to get back home much faster from Heathrow Airport! Regardless of whether you live in central London or outside of London or you’re just visiting, for me central London is the heart of the city. To have this line in place will mean you’re able to get to places much faster. This will enhance the quality of life for everyone and help draw visitor and residences into the heart of London, the place where I call home.”
How would you define Infrastructure?
“As a civil engineer, it’s everything to do with civilisation: the roads, everything from traffic signals to chemical waste plants, buildings, bridges. Infrastructure is what makes the city function and particularly this rail development, this is going to massively improve our transportation.”
I’m interested to hear what influences you have drawn on from your recent trip to Japan, particularly the artistic influences.
“Japan is such a beautiful country and I am such a visual person. Everything there is so colourful, even the food… the rail tickets. The quintessential Japanese work are the Hokusai block prints which are very graphic design aesthetically by nature. The colours gold, blue, black and white are so vibrant and prominent in these works. Out of the 18 days in Japan, I spent half of these visiting art galleries. It was amazing because you get the full sense of their culture and aesthetics. Since this trip, I have injected some colours back into my normally monochromatic colour palette.”
Tell us about the emotional side of your paintings, because your paintings are very much about emotions and feelings, and what you do about them.
“One of my favourite artists is Howard Hodgkin. His paintings are of an abstract nature but he described himself as a figurative painter. He said that when you paint realism and are trying to convey an emotion, that it must be so specific because you’re portraying a person’s face in some way. But if you do it in an abstract manner it’s open for the audience’s interpretation. I thought that is such a great way to say what I am trying to convey, which is abstract art but with a strong sense of emotions.
“What I don’t want to produce are random abstract lines where you can see it and it only looks pretty. I get straight to the point: there’s no fluffiness. It’s real. And real subject matters and ideas grasp the audience and help to connect with them. It touches people and evokes their thoughts.”
“My current body of work is about my identity and the growing pains from adolescence and teenage years. A lot of that trauma and human struggles that we go through at some point in our lives, was reflected specifically in the one piece about the Hiroshima bomb, of human journeys and struggles and traumas, and how we overcome these difficulties.”
I’m intrigued that in many of your paintings you’re looking at a journey. There may be many abstract shapes, but there are lots of little figures moving around the landscape.
“The little figures are the ancient oracle characters, equivalent to modern Chinese characters, and they form the basis of the modern Chinese language. As the Japanese and Korean languages also stem from Chinese, all three of these languages stem from these figures. The figures work perfectly with abstract art; for example the symbol for a child pictorially resembles a child coming towards you giving you a hug. The majority of the paintings have ‘person’ and ‘child’ lined up create a sense of constant motion and travelling through our lives. I guess that slight restlessness in myself is reflected in the work.”
Another feature of your paintings is that they are not flat, because you’ve used interesting materials. What materials have you used and how do they relate to your Elizabeth Line picture?
“I think the sculptural nature of my work comes from the structural engineering background, my inherent interest in materials and textures. This specific piece I have used ink on mulberry paper to reflect my Asian roots (traditional Chinese calligraphy uses ink on mulberry paper) and this is merged with acrylic on canvas to represent my Western upbringing. The mulberry paper is crumpled up and glued onto the canvas surface to create texture, like the layering of the two cultures.”
Movement has been a continuing theme for KV Duong, emigrating aged 7 with his family from Vietnam to Canada. That change gave him the opportunity to be who he is, and he now works in London. This is of a short snippet into thoughts and life of this artist.
KV Duong is an exciting emerging artist already producing paintings that are at once dynamic and engaging. I for one look forward to seeing more of his work.
Martyn Crawford, WSP for Article 25.
You can bid for KV’s stunning piece on our LIVE online auction – simply search for ‘Train Journey no 9: Homecoming’!
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The artwork from the Train Journey Series which the artists donated to 10×10 in its full glory