by Yolanda Wysocki
Huon Quach is an artist featured in the Winter 2013 issue of VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices & visions. After completing a biochemistry degree as well as a year of a graduate program, Huon discovered she didn’t like biochemistry at all. She then decided to take a figure drawing class and loved it. After considering how to earn a living, and wanting to combine art and science, she became an architect, which she pursued while raising her family. When her younger son was eleven, a friend suggested she “give her son a break” and take some art classes. She chose painting and has been painting ever since.
Huon and I met at Starbucks in the Fred Meyer off Burnside. Amid the blaring PA announcements, homeless individuals with their loaded shopping carts, and two men concentrating on their chess game, we talked and laughed about art, luck, remembering Cambodia, passion, and more.
Yolanda Wysocki: Tell me how you’ve managed to work and raise a family and paint.
Huon Quach: My family was always most important when the boys were young. But when my son was eleven, I started painting. I would come home from work on Friday and get my chores and responsibilities done so I could paint on the weekend.
YW: So you organized your time to make sure you could paint?
YW: There is such great variety in your subject matter. How do you choose what to paint?
HQ: It depends. I used to watch what’s going on, read the paper, and notice what captivates me; there was no focus. My abstracts are responses to events or emotions. For example, “Forgotten Memories” was a very personal painting.
I grew up in Cambodia and was sent by my father to Hong Kong to continue my studies right before Pol Pot’s regime took over. My brother and I were the last in my family to leave in 1971; my parents and two siblings stayed and were caught in the whole thing. I was lucky. But I think I had pushed the whole thing down to survive. In 2007, I went to see this beautiful Vietnamese dancer named Minh Tran at Reed College. He had made a trip to Viet Nam and Cambodia and re-visited the torture sites. He had suffered; I had suffered emotionally but not physically. When he came back, he put on this show called Forgotten Memories. When I went I didn’t know what it was about, but when I saw the show, it brought back memories. The dance moved me to tears and I painted this painting afterward and gave it the same name. I had no concept before I started; I just attacked the canvas and it came in four hours.
YW: Which is more satisfying – the abstract or the very detailed?
HQ: The same. I am painting a lot of detail these days. The “shakes” run in my family and I am afraid I, too, will get them so I am painting a lot of detail while I can.
What I love about all painting is it’s always a discovery, always something new. Sometimes it’s discovering my limits. Also there is a higher power. Of course, you start a painting with an idea but then the painting will take over. I really do whatever the painting asks me to do. I can feel it when it’s not right; the canvas will fight me back, and I feel it when it is finished.
YW: What is inspiring you these days?
HQ: I am trying to combine Western techniques and Chinese painting and calligraphy, with the Chinese sense of space – like in my bird paintings. That is what is most exciting for me; that is my focus now. In my heart the Western and Chinese have not come together yet. I have the Chinese part and the Western part and they happen to be on the same painting. I haven’t discovered yet what it would take for them to feel integrated, to blend. I am still searching. When I discover that it would be like winning the lottery!
YW: Does the calligraphy mean something specific to the painting?
HQ: Yes, I do the painting, then take it to my class and to my calligraphy teacher and ask them, “What do you see?” The calligraphy reflects their response. It’s also a composition tool.
YW: You don’t show your work very much.
HQ: I have no patience for hustling all the time. It is very difficult for me to do. I don’t enjoy it and I can never sell my paintings for the amount of hours I put in, and people don’t want to spend on something that will last forever. I paint because I want to paint. If someone wants to see my paintings, I am happy to show them!
YW: What would you suggest to artists who want to nurture their art, but may also have very busy lives or are raising a family?
HQ: Create time. Use your time wisely and make art a priority. Try not to feel guilty if you are not spending all your time with your children. Painting takes a lot of emotional energy and so does raising children. It’s easier when they get older and have their own friends. I also have a very supportive husband.
YW: Is there something else I haven’t asked or you would like people to know about you?
HQ: I feel very lucky in a way that I discovered my passion. If more people discovered their passion, the world would be less tedious; if people focused on what they like to do the world would be a better place.
YW: How did you find your passion? Do you think it was luck?
HQ: Luck and natural ability, if you have those two. The main thing is what is your natural ability. My husband found his passion, too; he found philosophy at 17 and has been studying and teaching it ever since. If I didn’t have passion, I wouldn’t be doing this. It does take so much time to do each painting so I feel I am very lucky.
As we left Fred Meyer, I considered whether “finding one’s passion” is a matter of luck or commitment or what exactly? Many questions, not so many answers.
Huon Quach is a Chinese woman born in Cambodia who immigrated to the United States in 1976. She received her BS in biochemistry from San Francisco State University and her MA in architecture from Virginia Tech. She has lived in California, Virginia, Michigan and now in Oregon. An architect by profession, she shifted her focus to painting in the past few years and enjoys the journey she takes wherever she paints or draws.
Yolanda Wysocki works as a life/transformation coach. Her background has been in counseling and social services for over 25 years. She went back to school for a second bachelor’s degree when she was 51 years old. Seven years and three schools later, she completed her art degree, a lifelong dream.