Artist Feature: KV Duong

We’re pleased to introduce abstract action artist KV Duong, member of ArtCan, who is gearing up for his first London solo exhibition, ‘Identity‘ at the end of this month. ArtCan sat down with him to discuss his artistic journey thus far, his struggles, and how performance art has changed the course of his practice.

Catch his show from 24th October – 27th November (opening hours Tuesday to Saturday, 18:00-23:00). He will perform a body painting live during the Opening Night on 23rd October (18:30-21:00, live performance at 19:30). More info and link at the end of this post.

Headshot of KV Duong, Streatham Space Project | ArtCan Artist Feature

It is great to see how far you’ve progressed in the past few years. What are some of the highlights?

It has indeed been a bit of a whirlwind. The kickstart was being shortlisted for the Derwent Art Prize in 2016, then the rest naturally found their course: shortlisted for London Artrooms, Leyden Gallery’s Platform for Emerging Arts, The Concept Space, It’s Art Call competition, Flux and RB12 to name a few. And now an upcoming solo exhibition which I am very excited about. I will also be involved with Article 25’s 10×10 charity auction later in November – also very much looking forward to this.

What would you say are the keys factors to your success?

I am a very dedicated and driven individual. It really does help to commit time to one’s passion. By no means would I say I’ve made it, far from it, but the small successes along the way are encouraging. I attribute this success to being open to constructive criticism, open to learning from anyone who’s willing to teach me and staying humble.

My work comes from the heart; I am very honest which helps to connect with writers and critics but also pushes away some members of the audience. I’m not afraid to reveal myself in my work. It also helps to have a day time job so that my artistic output isn’t driven by commercial goals and I’m able to experiment and develop without being pressured to sell.

It’s very important to encourage and support fellow artists; they in turn will help you develop and support you along the way, and introduce you to ideas and people who you may not have access to otherwise. I am very proud to have met members of ArtCan and Chrom-Art who have given me so many opportunities.

How have your cultural background and career in engineering influenced your art?

I trained and work as a Structural Engineer for the past 19 years so this experience has influenced the way I view and respond to the world, specifically how I understand and use materials. The physicality of the material is very important in my art – its tactile nature, texture, as well as its inherent functions.

In the Migrant Crisis series, I painted on wooden pallets as a metaphor to the transport of migrants across Europe. In the Identity series, I use 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. I am now experimenting with packaging cardboard as an omen to my parents who worked in a packaging factory for 25-plus years to raise their kids. The cardboard is ripped and top layer carved out to reveal the form underneath. Next year I plan to explore installation and sculpture; I want to experiment with fibre-reinforced polymer (a material used when retrofitting buildings) as both a structural and sculptural material.

Letter to My Younger Self (detail).  Acrylic, ink and rusted nails on mulberry paper and canvas.  2018

KV Duong, Letter to My Younger Self (detail).  Acrylic, ink and rusted nails on mulberry paper and canvas. 2018


In Transit.  Ink and graphite on wooden pallet.  2016

KV Duong, In Transit.  Ink and graphite on wooden pallet.  2016


Rift (detail).  Acrylic and pumice stone on packaging cardboard.  2018

KV Duong, Rift (detail).  Acrylic and pumice stone on packaging cardboard.  2018


What are a few of the most influential exhibitions that you’ve seen to date?

The Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the RA in 2016:
I experienced first-hand the visual powers of what abstract art can do. Aesthetically, I am drawn to the works of Franz Kline. Emotionally I am drawn to Rothko.  But Pollock’s Blue Pole is for me the most significant and influential painting from that era. In the modern era, the abstract works of Anselm Kiefer and Howard Hodgkin are greatly influential. I veer towards abstract art because it allows me the freedom to express and paint gesturally without the need to produce a representational image.

Tibor Hajas at the Venice Biennale summer 2017:
Tibor Hajas was loosely part of to the Flux movement. Two photography series of Hajas’ were presented at the Biennale which changed the course of my artistic output; his work was graphic, raw and deeply moving. Through his inspiration, I produced an experimental photography series to document a turbulent period in my life. And through this photography series came my first live body painting performance last December.

Experimental Photo Series. Acrylic on paper. 2017

KV Duong, Experimental Photo Series.  Acrylic on paper. 2017

Tell us more about your performance art – did you ever think you’d be a performance artist?

Honestly no, more due to lack of exposure and opportunity, but the performance came so naturally. This wasn’t always the case. I recall as recent as ten years ago, I would feel so uncomfortable seeing myself on videotapes because I thought, someone will surely see through my secret. I felt very vulnerable and exposed. It has been quite a personal development since then to now feeling completely comfortable in my own skin.

What makes performance art so unique for your practice?

The act of painting with one’s entire body is quite an experience. Firstly the performance last year was in December so the paint was quite cold on my skin. This was the first time I’d ever cover my entire body in paint; you develop a new relationship with this medium. Secondly there is an intimacy that you feel with the piece, having your skin physically in contact with the texture of the primed canvas and dragging your painted body across the surface. It may sound cliché but you’re literally pouring your entire body and soul into the painting. Lastly it feels like an out-of-body experience when you are painting in front of an audience. You get in the zone and your body and mind just set free and you can fully connect with the audience uninhibited; one lady in the audience was so moved by the performance that she teared up during the session. To be able to connect with people and tell them your story, and for them to be moved and inspired by it, you makes it all worth it.

I will continue to explore this part of my practice as I feel this is a very unique aspect of my work and helps to set me apart from the vast field of very talented emerging artists.


Turbulence.  Live body painting performance – Acrylic on canvas.  2017

kc duong, artcan artist


The topics that you deal with in your art are very compelling. You seem to have no issue facing real subject matters head on! Can you give us a few examples of your work?

You are correct. I’m quite an honest and open person and this is reflected in my art. I share a piece of myself in every artwork that I create.

In the Migrant Crisis series, the issues faced by the migrants hit close to home. 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 away for having glaucoma. As immigrants to Canada, my parents sacrificed their comfort to give their children the chance at freedom and opportunity.

“School Trousers” from this year’s Identity series connected with a lot of people. This painting is about the story of a school boy who was killed in the atomic bomb, but not before he was able to walk home to give his mom a last goodbye. Although this was a different war from what my family went through, the human trauma experienced by the mother and son are universal pains that we can relate too.

The experimental photography series is about my coming out progress. The topic of self-acceptance and learning to be comfortable in your own skin triggered a lot of discussion with the audience. I’m very thankful to live in a tolerant society but I didn’t manage to come out until I was 28 years old. There were many moments of loneliness during this period. These life experiences inspired the body of work Train Journeys, which is a metaphor to our life journeys.

Human emotions and connection are important subjects in my work and I will continue to develop these ideas.


School Trousers.  Acrylic and ink on mulberry paper and canvas.  2018

KV Duong, School Trousers.  Acrylic and ink on mulberry paper and canvas. 2018


Identity V: 1987.  Acrylic and ink on mulberry paper and canvas.  2018

KV Duong, Identity V: 1987.  Acrylic and ink on mulberry paper and canvas.  2018


Train Journey no 2.  Acrylic on canvas.  2017

KV Duong, Train Journey no 2.  Acrylic on canvas.  2017


Finally – what advice would you give to other artists?
Have the courage to experiment; when you become too comfortable with your practice, push yourself to try different things. And be honest with yourself because if you’re not, no one else will believe you.


Big thanks to KV for sitting down with us for this interview. Be sure to find your way to his solo exhibition at Streatham Space Project:

KV Duong Solo Exhibition: Identity
Streatham Space Project
Sternhold Avenue, LONDON, SW2 4PA
October 23rd: Opening night (18:30-21:00, with a live body painting performance at 19:30).
October 24th – November 27th: Exhibition run (Tuesdays to Saturdays, 18:00-23:00)
FB/ Instagram: @kvduongart