By Joel Hall
When artist Linh Nguyen, 24, and his family immigrated from Vietnam to Clayton County in 1993, it was a big transition. The Morrow resident, who is studying at Georgia State University with hopes of becoming an art professor, said he has had to overcome financial, language, and cultural challenges to pursue his craft.
"We were farmers and not all that educated," Nguyen said. "I was 7 or 8 when I got here. I could remember that I could only write my name ... it was a totally different world.
"It was really hard learning English, but I never let those hardships stop me," he continued. "I just used that difficulty as my inspiration to get better. I made it my ultimate goal in school to get straight A's."
While attending Forest Park High School, Nguyen said he was able to excel by providing visual aids with all of his class projects. It was during that time that he became interested in "concept art," a genre of illustration commonly used to set the mood for movies, video games and comic books.
"I love the concept art in movies and video games," Nguyen said. "I can explore a lot of details, I can add props, and make the environment any way I want to."
After graduating from Forest Park High School in 2004, Nguyen said he attended the Art Institute of Atlanta. After three years of study, he took a year off to get married and transferred to Georgia State University, where he could pursue his art without paying private school fees.
While still a student, Nguyen said he has produced more than 1,000 pieces of artwork, several of which are currently on display at the Clayton County Headquarters Library, located at 865 Battle Creek Road in Jonesboro. His art is being featured in the library's lobby throughout the month of April.
Nguyen's pieces run the gamut of artistic media, and use watercolor, pencils, oils, and even markers to explore visual concepts. Many of his pieces incorporate nature, Vietnamese folk lore, Japanese woodblock print imagery, and bright, vivid colors.
Sherry Turner, managing librarian at the Headquarters Library, said the common thread running through Nguyen's work is that it is all engaging.
"It really shows the diversity of his talent," she said. "His work ranges from simplistic style to more intense detail. Often, when you have a standard landscape [painting], people can walk right by it. His work makes you stop and question, 'what did the artist have in mind?'"
Nguyen has received awards from Arts Clayton, and one of his works, "The Cask of Amontillado," is presently on display at the National Archives Southeast Region in Morrow. His art is also featured in the cafe at Barnes & Noble Booksellers on Mt. Zion Road, where he works as a barista to make money for college.
Barbara Bird, community relations manager for Barnes & Noble at Mt. Zion, owns several of Nguyen's works and said visitors have purchased his art when it has been displayed at the store's cafe.
"He's always very busy," Bird said. "Still, through it all, he is very reliable. He puts different pieces of his art in the cafe that certainly everybody enjoys. He switches it up every couple of weeks and there is always something of Linh's hanging up. That's something that not every workplace can take advantage of."
Nguyen said despite his ambition, he still has to work very hard to help support his wife and earn money for his parents and several siblings. He said art helps him maintain a balance.
"When we came over here, life was very difficult and stressful," Nguyen said. "Art, to me, is like a meditation, and meditation is very important in Eastern culture. It not only helps you think, but it helps you remember your place in life and how you are overcoming it."