Featured Artist: Truong Tran


Truong Tran lives in San Francisco and teaches at Mills College. He received his MFA from San Francisco State University in 1995 in the field of writing. He is the author numerous volumes of poetry. He is a self taught visual artist whose work has been exhibited in venues including the California Historical Society, California Institute of Integral Studies, SOMArts Gallery, Telegraph Hill Gallery and The San Francisco International Art Market Art Fair, Avenue 12 Gallery and The Peninsula Museum of Art.

The Process of Art Making

Truong Tran

Truong Tran

On days when I am not working as a poet and teacher, I try to wake up early. I empty my oversize messenger bag of books and papers and the previous day’s half-eaten lunch. I place the strap over my left shoulder, with the bag firmly secured to my back. I begin to walk. I walk for as long as it takes to fill the bag with stuff: branches, findings from the local thrift stores, choice items left in boxes on sidewalks, and—if I’m lucky—something I’ve never seen before. Once the bag is filled, I return home and empty the contents from the bag, creating mounds of what some might consider junk. I see them as source materials and the beginnings to my art-making process.

I refer to what I do as art-making because I do not paint, draw, or sculpt with a traditional or learned consideration of artistic craft. My craft is founded in the doing. I glue things together. I make things fit. I dip things in wax. I cut. I build. I weave. I think. I fill things up with paint using ketchup bottles. I stare at things in the hope that these things will talk back to me. This is what I do, and it makes me happy. It allows me to lose myself in the process of doing. It also makes me sad, but allows me to find myself in the process of seeing. 

Art, be it poetry, sculpting, or making dinner for a group of friends, are just my ways of thinking though the consciousness of these times. 

Forthcoming Shows and Publications 

4 Square All Stars @ Arc Gallery San Francisco, August 2019

Publication of 100 words Co-Authored with Damon Potter, Omnidawn Publishing 2021

Publication of The Book of Others, 2020


The Interview

How did the arts find you? 
I was a poet long before giving myself permission to be an artist. I worked with words and when the words no longer held as a container for my thoughts; I wanted to find ways to communicate in a non verbal language.

I think I wanted to be an artist all along. I just didn’t give myself permission. Being the son a immigrants, the idea of being an artist felt privileged and indulgent. As if being a poet was really that much more practical.

I continue to find myself in the arts because I have something to say. I want to be seen and heard. I am looking for ways to hold my thinking, to further my thinking, to enact my thinking. The arts found me because I am surrounded by materials. It speaks to me. It says to look in the hopes that I will see the possibilities hidden within.

Who has been an influence in your career?
If by career, you are asking about the making of art, I would have to say my biggest influence is Joseph Cornell. The fact that he gave himself permission to make art at such a late age, that he crafted theses visual worlds out of found objects, that he was an obsessive collector, all align with my own relationship to visual arts. He gave himself permission just like I am giving myself permission to make, to think, to call myself an artist. That is easier said than done. Its taken me all these years to get here. 

When you hit a creative block, how do you move forward?
I am an artist practicing in two mediums. I am both a poet and a sculptor. I see the work that I do as ways of thinking. I sometimes think through an orchestration of words while at other times, I am looking for language and expression through a material world.

Having these two paths before me allows me to move through the world and between worlds. I don’t really have creative blocks because I have various ways of exploring. I am making a sculpture and working with light today.  I have tomorrow set aside for the editing of a book. Somewhere in between those two practices, I’ll be cooking dinner for a my friends. They are all just ways of thinking.

How do you define success?
I don’t know the answer to this question. I just know that I don’t define success in terms of sales or monetary evaluations.

I think of success as the ability to make, to say, think what is truly your art. When I write, it is about going deep enough inside so that the voice is free of that expectation to perform. In my latest book to be published in 2020, I am trying to convey the reality of anger in my words and not the performance of anger that is expected of me as person of color. In my visual art, I’m trying to get beyond the surface beauty of any given work. Let’s just say it is the ability to get beneath surface.  

What do you hope your work communicates?
I hope my work conveys a consideration of accessibility. As much as I want my work to exist in spaces like museums and galleries, I want it to also exist in the world. I want my art to feel accessible in term of the materials I use to build the work, the subjectivity as well as the language used to convey meaning. I want my art to say, “I made this. I thought of this and I made it with my own two hands. I made this for you. I’m saying this to you.”

What has been an important lesson you have learned during your career?
I’ve learned to trust my intuition. I’ve made things and I written things that no one wanted to see or read. I did it and I felt good about the act of creating because ultimately art is about the ability to express your thinking. Art is about having a voice. It does not matter if you sell or show. You made it. You wrote it. You said it. That’s what matters. 

Finally, what advice might you give to your younger self?
Give yourself permission. It begins by saying I am an artist.

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