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  • Writer's pictureHarleen Kaur

Eric Bui: Art Across Mediums

Eric Bui, a constant explorer of different art methods, is a local artist here in San Jose originally from Alhambra—a suburb of Los Angeles. Using different analog and digital mediums for his artwork, Bui tends to skew his artwork towards pop art.

Bui sat down with Chopsticks Alley to talk all about his upbringing in art, an incident with the city of San Jose involving his stance against police brutality, and his inspiration.

Can you tell me how you got into art?

I've been drawing since I was a kid, for as long as I can remember. I grew up fascinated with cartoons, comics, and video games, and naturally wanted to re-create what I saw and read. When I was young, I loved taking existing styles from my favorite creators and creating my own version of them, using them in strip comics and others.

How did you decide to settle in San Jose?

In the early stages of my career working at a tech company in Pasadena, I wasn't where I wanted to be financially and professionally, and wanted an opportunity to showcase what I had to offer. I was fortunate enough to get an offer for a position up in the Bay, and took the opportunity. It was great because I had some family and friends up here, and given its similarities to San Gabriel Valley (a suburb of LA), it made the transition really easy.

Has your art changed since you moved from Alhambra to San Jose? Do you draw your inspiration from where you live ?

Yes, quite a bit, actually. Before I moved up here, I only occasionally made art, mostly doodles and sketches of various types. I'd say my artwork used to be much darker in terms of humor. After I moved up here and met my partner, Pauline (jumdropz), she really invigorated my passion for art and was super supportive of it. My art occasionally still contains elements of dark humor; I don't think that will ever change. The difference now is that I have so much more exposure to new art, both local and on social media, that I've incorporated a lot of those elements into what I make today.

Many artists have one consistent artstyle. Is there a reason you don't have a particular style?

I attribute that mostly to my fleeting, momentary fascinations with certain things. Every day I see people creating awesome and amazing artworks, and I get motivated by my curiosity about how they may have created it. As a result, I experiment a lot with different styles and by the time I get used to one, I might already have another that I want to try. It's interesting because I do feel that having a particular style makes it easier to build a certain following, but I don't think I have it in me to commit to one. Maybe that's why I created characters Buster and Chudy, so I can have a commonality throughout my pieces.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

From so many places! I have a lot of interests and hobbies: gaming, sports, music, art of all varieties, and from those interests I'm just constantly exposed to creativity that goes into producing the things I'm interested in. For example, I'm a big fan of the NBA, and in keeping up with the players' fashion on and off the court, I get a lot of ideas for outfits or moods I want to convey. If I'm watching a sci-fi show, I might be inspired to draw something space-themed. There's just so many beautiful and wonderful things out in the world and I want to learn from all of it.

Is there a specific person who inspires your artwork or your love for art in general?

Definitely Pauline. I really credit my development as an artist to her because of the immense support she gives me. She always introduces me to new artworks from artists of all different mediums. We share a lot of common interests, but the specifics of those interests are so different. So we feed off each other and learn and are open to what the other has to share. It's cool to discover stuff I don't think I ever would have on my own.

What is your favorite medium and why?

Damn, that's tough. I go through phases, where I'll get obsessed with one medium, such as watercolor, and then move on to another one like digital. I have a love/hate relationship with digital. I love that it allows me endless possibilities and lets me correct mistakes, but it also leads to a lot of stress due to occasional perfectionism, which is pretty detrimental. While I do love pen and paper, I'll say digital just because I can take the iPad anywhere and create without needing to worry about supplies.

Your Instagram pages shows you are very aware of problems not only in the Asian community, but in other communities as well. Do you feel that your art is an outlet for you to express your views on issues like police brutality?

Definitely. My art is an escape and, as you mentioned, an outlet. It allows me to channel strong emotions that would otherwise be bottled up. Part of my development has coincided with educating myself on social issues to not only learn, but also reframe and adjust, how I see the world. As that view constantly shifts, I find new subject matters that impact myself personally and, naturally, impacts my artwork. In regards to police brutality, even on surface level it's such an ugly thing and the deeper you dive into past cases, articles, books, and people's firsthand accounts, it just is rife for strong emotions.

Your piece “AMERICANA” created some controversy with the city of San Jose. Can you share what happened?

One of the artworks I created was selected by the San Jose Office of Culture Affairs to be featured as part of the 'Holding the Moment' exhibit, which centered around the quarantine and the subsequent events that occurred.

My piece, 'AMERICANA', was to be part of the first of several rotating exhibits. It was scheduled to be up just a little more than a month, and it was up there for right around that time. During that week, however, there was some controversy that was drummed up from it, as some complaints were made to the subject matter of the piece itself. The city eventually decided to rotate the exhibit a few days early, but by then there was already media coverage on the incident.

Source: @lolwtferic “AMERICANA” on Instagram captioned “stop police brutality. reinvest in our communities. keep moving forward.”

That led to a lot of discussion with local artists and members of the city. The emphasis was on my emotions, though I do wish that there was more of an emphasis on what the subject matter was speaking about. The impact this whole thing had on me has been a positive one. It was both intimidating and invigorating, and it has made me want to create art with a message.

I see that you also have a shop where you sell prints of your work and some pins, what inspired you to open up a shop?

During the end of 2019, I participated as a vendor at SJMade's Holiday Craft Fair. It being my first time doing any sort of tabling to sell my art, I had a small window of time to get a storefront set up and learn about POS systems before the craft fair began. I thought it would be cool to have an online storefront, and viewed it as another artist milestone.

Can you explain the meaning behind the name of your shop, Who is Buster?

Buster (then unnamed) started off as a random little doodle that was kind of based off of my younger brother. He tends to have a stoic, apathetic facial expression, and I wanted to capture that. After I made the sketch, I really liked how it turned out and started incorporating him more into my other artworks. I asked my partner, Pauline, what his name should be and she came up with Buster, which I thought was perfect.

How did you and Pauline (jumdropz) meet, and why did you decide to feature her work in your shop?

We met at work at a previous company and have been together since 2015. I wanted to feature her artwork because she's ultra-talented and, like me, thought it would be fun to have a place to share and sell artwork to anyone who wanted to check them out.

You can see more of Bui’s work on his site and his Instagram.

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Harleen Kaur

Chopsticks Alley Editorial Intern

Harleen is a freshman at Foothill College pursuing her B.A. in philosophy. She ran her high school’s newspaper PHHS The Legend as a managing editor , and was later inducted into the Quill and Scroll Honor Society as a lifetime member. Growing up in San Jose, Harleen hopes to write about and amplify the voices of the Vietnamese and Pinoy community that she is surrounded by. She hopes to attend law school and become a lawyer who will give back to her community.


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