Meet the Artist Interview Series - Xuan My Ho

Editor's Note:

The Main Gallery recently relocated to Santa Cruz Avenue in downtown Menlo Park and we are now open for visitors! As we begin our new adventure, we wanted to reassure you that while the “house” is changing, the “home” is not. We remain a thriving, enthusiastic cooperative of peninsula-based artists who are quite passionate about the art we create, and the opportunity to connect with you in a shared experience of the world. We bring our stories with us wherever we go, and our Meet the Artist blog series continues to unfold.

What did you do before you decided to pursue a creative path?

I left Vietnam in 1978, one of the waves of “boat people” fleeing the country following the Vietnam War in 1975.  Before immigrating to the United States in 1979, I studied medicine. Once I arrived in America, I decided to change my career path to computer science and work in the field of information technology. I held various positions over a 30-year career span, ranging from Software Engineer to Applications Manager and Quality Assurance Engineer. During a visit to Barcelona, Spain in 1998, I was awestruck by Catalan Modernist Antoni Gaudi's use of mosaics in his architecture. This ignited my passion for mosaics.

What life experiences have had the biggest impact on your art to date?

After working on mosaics for over two years, my neighbor encouraged me to join the Kings Mountain Art Fair, an annual Labor Day Weekend event put on entirely by volunteers in order to benefit the Kings Mountain Volunteer Fire Brigade and the Kings Mountain Elementary School. Since I was a resident and could get in without going through a competitive jury (screening) process I decided to participate almost two decades ago, on Labor Day Weekend, 2001. Much to my surprise, I was able to sell a mosaic table top on the first day. On the third day, Neil Young, the legendary rock artist, came to my booth and bought the "Four Seasons" table set!  Needless to say, this was a huge encouragement for me. For the first time I felt confident enough to call myself an “artist!”

Fresh Morning, 24x18"

What can you tell us about the opportunities or challenges for mosaic work?

I started creating mosaics with ceramics, then expanded to different materials such as stained, vitreous, and tempered glass; mirrors; seashells; slate; marble, and others in order to make finished art look more three-dimensional. Currently, I still select from these materials depending on the concepts I want to express. The process is different for each concept. It can be a direct method, requiring the painstakingly careful placement of pieces without the use of grout, or an indirect one, where grout is used between pieces. The methods can be combined within one piece of art, using different approaches for different sections. 

Xuan My Ho, Mosaic Artist

One of the biggest overall challenges lies in the cutting of materials, especially ceramics, as they are thick, hard to cut, and labor-intensive! I use stained glass and some very thin and tiny pieces for detailed landscape art, all of which require a very precise cut. Sometimes I have to hold my breath when laying down individual pieces in order to put them in the exact position I intend! I don't grout landscaping pieces, since my goal is to fully render the landscape through the color, texture and orientation of materials without being influenced by the grout’s colors. Depending on the theme design, some pieces also require the correct “andamento”—the visual flow and direction within a mosaic produced by the specific placement of rows when laying pieces. This adds design intricacy and elements of problem solving on top of precision placement, all of which can be very tricky.

Santorini-II, 24 x 17”

How do you ensure that you continue to learn and improve?

I am a self-driven artist.  Working on mosaics every day has become my daily routine, one which absorbs up to ten hours a day depending on how many other daily commitments and responsibilities I need to juggle. I always have a list of topics for new pieces. Sometimes I lay out multiple pieces at the same time, along with materials to be used for each piece, in order not to forget my trend of thought. I also follow other mosaic artists to be inspired by fresh approaches and different styles. Over the years I have expanded my mosaic work to include a wide variety of different topics, from two-dimensional (wall hangings) to three-dimensional (indoor/outdoor tables, birdbaths, water fountains, and sculptures).  Within the two-dimensional wall hanging realm I have many themes: landscaping, flowers, abstracts, figurative, and mirrors employing a wide range of materials. My thirst for challenge, learning, and improvement is a constant.

Three Sisters, 24 x 24”

Where/how do you find your creative community?

I have lived on Kings Mountains in Woodside, CA for over 20 years. I feel very much like I belong to this community, a belonging that much more important given my personal history of evacuation under duress. I have led three large community projects at the Kings Mountain Community Center (also called Kings Mountain Fire Station) in 2009, 2011, and 2017.

Hiking on Kings Mountain, 5 x 9’ Commemorative Plaque

The 2009 project was to create five mosaic benches for fair-goers to have places to rest during the annual Kings Mountain Art Fair. This project took six weekends and 38 volunteers to create. The 2011 project was signage for the Community Center building—a larger than life five foot x nine foot mural commemorating key historical events and the beauty of the natural landscape on Kings Mountain. This one took seven weekends and 40 volunteers to create. The third project was in 2017, a 28 foot x two foot sign for the ever popular ”Cook Shack,” where food and drink are sold during the art fair. These were very fun projects with thirty to forty volunteers working together anywhere from three to 15 days to pull off the community murals we hoped. It is one of the ways I choose to give back to the community that has given me roots, and the personal rewards are intangible. Kings Mountain is a wonderful community! When you need help or volunteers, there are always people willing to assist. As is often true with volunteering, I feel humbled by what I receive through these efforts, and the opportunity to bond with people in my community is irreplaceable.

Detail, Kings Mountain Commemorative Mosaic

For more information on the Kings Mountain projects, please see:

What do you enjoy the most about your studio space?

My studio space is a place for my personal time. What I enjoy the most is being able to work on mosaics while listening to news, music, and sermons at the same time. Entering my studio invariably motivates me to create.

Sculptural Mosaics: Bailey, 20 x 18 x 7” and Tika, 20 x 17 x 8”

Do you feel you need to have a degree in art to pursue an art career? I don’t believe you need one to pursue a career in art. I have neither an official background nor an art degree. My professional career in computer software development was very dry. Yes, it taught me discipline and organization and problem solving. However, I had a natural yearning, and no family—or ancestors for that matter—who claimed the title of artist. I discovered my artistic skills and interests simply by taking one mosaic class, and tumbling into rapt delight. Over time I became increasingly passionate about my work. I kept up a steady creative practice, and gradually fell deeply in love with mosaic expression. Once I discovered my love of art I began taking classes to learn different technical skills and styles. To date I have taken at least 20 mosaic classes from both national and international mosaic artists. They have had a remarkable effect on my growth as an artist, and my ability to express myself through mosaic art. I would say that it is more important for a person to have a love of art; to surrender to the exploratory process of it; to have a willingness to work hard at it, than it is to have an externally-awarded degree.

Flowers for You, 13.5 x 13.5”

For more information about Xuan My Ho and her artwork, please visit Xuan My Ho.

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