By Lucy Altman-Newell '17
Professor Phung Huynh, a Los Angeles-based artist, has held the position of Visiting Assistant Professor of Painting at Scripps College this past academic year and during this time has taught Beginning Drawing, Beginning Painting, and Intermediate and Advanced Painting courses. Her extensive studio art (primarily drawing and painting), teaching and life experiences have made her what many of her students here at Scripps have deemed a wonderful and valuable professor and person.
Huynh completed undergraduate work at the University of Southern California, earned her Bachelor in Fine Arts in Illustration at the Art Center College of Design, and earned her Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art from New York University. According to her staff profile on the Scripps College website, “Huynh is influenced by 17th century Italian Baroque painters as well as contemporary painters who explore postcolonial, cross-cultural phenomena. Her work is a deliberate exploration of traditional Chinese auspicious imagery, and the ways it is consumed and distorted in American popular culture.”
On her website, www.phunghuynh.com, Huynh explains the mission and execution of her work: “Dismantling cultural authenticity, I paint images of Chinese cherubs, lotus, carp and silk textile designs with a ‘pop’ veneer that collide in a complicated composition of delight and horror to challenge the viewer with a western-leaning perspective, as well as the viewer with a nonwestern-leaning perspective. The works are usually of highly illuminated bodies with a lush Baroque palette, set against flat backgrounds and eastern patterns. When the viewer begins to explore the awkward synthesis and visual idiosyncrasy of my projects, notions of cultural representations and stereotypes unravel and challenge how we consume and interpret ethnographic signifiers.”
Her art has been displayed in several solo and group exhibitions across the country, and she has also received commissions, including from Rolling Stone Magazine and American Airlines. Over the years, Huynh has appeared in many publications, magazines, journals and newspapers.
Professor Huynh has taught at Art Center College of Design, Ribet Academy, East Los Angeles College, and is currently Associate Professor of Art at Los Angeles Valley College. She has proved to be a very influential instructor.
“I loved having Phung Huynh as a professor,” Mia Siracusa ’17, a student in Professor Huynh’s Introduction to Painting course here at Scripps, said. “She taught me about light logic and basic techniques of composing a painting that I will use forever. She also pushed me to challenge myself and was very supportive. She was also supportive outside of art and always reminded us [her students] that ‘we are human, not machines,’ meaning it’s okay for us to take a break from the constant workload and pressures we face as students. She also represents Scripps very well, as she is a strong woman who believes in empowering other women and embracing ourselves for who we are. I feel honored to have gotten to take a class with her and wish I could take more. She is a wonderful professor and one of my role models.”
Jocelyn Gardner ’17, a student in the same class, said “Prof. Huynh is amazing and we’ll miss her here at the 5Cs. Whether you are an art major or not and regardless of your skill level, she makes you feel welcome in her classes while challenging and supporting you. She always has something positive to say while still giving you feedback.”
The Scripps Voice caught up with Professor Huynh for an interview this past week.
How did you come to be a visiting professor at Scripps? What brought you here?
Before coming to Scripps, I was and currently am tenured at Los Angeles Valley College, a community college located in the San Fernando Valley. Teaching at a community college is aligned with my efforts to use art to contribute to public education and the belief in democratizing higher education. Also, as a visual artist, teaching at a community college broadened my work in placing art as social practice and going beyond the walls of museums and galleries. During the summer of 2014, Scripps was looking for a Visiting Professor in Painting and Drawing, and a fellow artist and friend who teaches at Pitzer College encouraged me to apply. At the time, I was hesitant to leave my students and “home” college for a year, but felt it was also a necessary step in broadening my scope to receive professional development and to be in a different environment where I can grow and develop both as an artist and professor.
How has your experience been here at Scripps overall?
I absolutely love Scripps and feel that it is a special place for many reasons. My students are wonderful, intelligent, enthusiastic and motivated. Also, growing up in southern California, I became familiar with the art of Scripps faculty and feel honored to have taught with them this year. The Scripps community is a vibrant one where I look forward to coming to work and feel supported.
What has been the most unique thing about teaching at Scripps, as opposed to other teaching positions you have held?
Teaching at an all-women’s college has been quite unique and special. I attended an all-girls’ high school, and took for granted the sense of empowerment and independence that was nurtured and instilled from the beginning. I went to high school thinking that feminism was almost inherent and that everyone should care about women’s issues. I was perceived and regarded based on my thoughts, ideas and actions rather than the way I looked. My interest in gender, race and class that was informed by a progressive “all-girls’” education completely fell in line with Scripps students and teaching philosophy. It was serendipity!
What was the most memorable part of your post here?
There are many memorable moments, and it is hard to choose just one. One very special one is when one of the professors in the Art Department was expecting a baby. We, as a department (family) threw her a surprise baby shower with all the frills… diaper cake, cupcakes, sparkling lemonade and many baby jokes. It is nice to have those sorts of moments where we remember that life is important, too, not just the “work” that we do.
Scripps also gave me the courage to finally initiate projects I have been wanting to do, or feeling not brave enough to do until now. For example, I have always been interested in prison issues and incarceration as a theme in art. I was not only able to incorporate the subject in art projects for Scripps students, but I was invited to be a guest artist lecturer at the men’s prison in Chino which was a very intense and profound experience.
My father is a Cambodian genocide survivor, and for many years, I wanted to make work about it but felt extremely intimidated and hesitant. What was blocking me is the feeling that art could do no justice and not adequately depict genocide. At Scripps, I came across Professor Nathalie Rachlin and her presentation about Rithy Panh (a Cambodian genocide survivor and internationally recognized film maker). Her presentation was powerful especially in opening up the possibilities of using art to approach the subject of genocide. Inspired by her talk and presentation, I plan on traveling to Cambodia on a more regular basis (my father currently lives there) and initiating my research and project about the Khmer Rouge Genocide and its impact today.
What does your foreseeable future hold for you? Where are you off to after Scripps?
For my immediate future, I will be returning to Los Angeles Valley College and chair the Art Department in one year. I have gained so much at Scripps and look forward to bringing what I have learned to my students at Valley College. I will also continue my practice as artist and exhibit my work. In the far future, I hope to start a foundation that will promote the work of emerging artists and create an artist-in-residency program in Cambodia.
Is there anything you would like to remind your students as they go forward on their art paths? Anything you’d like to say as you go forward on your own?
I would like to remind my students to work hard, to have a plan but to also be flexible to change. Never put yourself in the place of “I should have” or “I wish I could have.” I want to thank my students, colleagues and Scripps staff for a very special year. Although I am “leaving,” the friendships and relationships I have formed are still intact!