Artist Mike Hern Reveals How Traveling the World Inspires His Work

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October 18, 2021

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(HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam) — Mike Hern is a self-admitted night owl. The Canadian artist now lives in Vietnam, where he blasts loud music in his studio so he can stay up until morning painting. 

Only after clearing out our mutual late-afternoon schedules did The Click snag a few minutes of Hern’s time, where we briefly discussed his life as an artist, teacher, and traveler, as well as his most recent exhibition. Hern, whose studio in the background of our Facebook video call consisted of paintings and photographs from floor to ceiling, revealed how his world travels continue to inspire his work. 

Hern has visited over 40 countries in total, and after 15 years of painting and teaching, he doesn’t see himself doing anything else.  

Mike Hern at his exhibition

Mike Hern at his most recent art exhibition. [Credit: Mike Hern]

Could you tell me a little bit about your background?

As far as the arts, I have always been interested in it since I was a kid. I went to Fanshawe College for Fine Arts and did a three-year program there and then I continued on with the degree in East Coast, Halifax and it’s called the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

There’s three main art schools in Canada. There’s one in the East and one in the West and I went to the one in the East. And it was a good opportunity, with some good professors and reputable artists that are instructors there.

And it’s great doing studio time. I minored in art history with a couple extra credits and then had the chance to do a graduation exhibition with the famous pop artist, Claes Oldenburg at the gallery. With classes done, I had the opportunity to go to Asia and then just kept painting once I left.

What inspired your most recent exhibition, and how does it compare to some of your previous exhibitions?

The most recent one is pretty much similar because the focus was still Saigon and Vietnam. Mostly, the paintings were about Vietnam, and it was a chance to bring it all together. It was an opportunity because the person that owns the space is a friend of a fellow artist, and he suggested they can rent it out because it’s not being used. So everyone in our group chat communicated with each other so we can each have our own show and then a group show. 

Close up of Hern's work.

Oil-painting by Mike Hern [Credit: Garrett MacLean]

How does being a teacher, artist, and world traveler play into the inspiration for your work?

It was a huge inspiration, because all my paintings and stuff come from real locations. And so when I’m traveling, I always take photos, tons of pictures wherever I go. That’s why now I kind of push back my focus on Vietnam, and more about the other people’s worlds that I’ve seen. Which is strange to do right away, like right after the trip, I guess it’s because I’ve been away from Vietnam for a while and when I came back we were just excited to be back and take it all in again, because it’s a good subject matter of new locations to paint. So I stuck with it.

Now I’m longing to travel again. I’ve been digging into all those photos again, and working on a world mini-series. I’m trying to do one small painting of every country.

What do you enjoy most about the combination of being an artist, being a teacher, traveling, and taking photos as you said?

Wow. I mean, all of it, that is my life. I don’t see myself doing anything else, other than what I’m doing now. If I want to focus on one subject I can always fall back on art.

Although I was always thinking that, I don’t know if I enjoy teaching or maybe another subject. Of course, if I’m studying elementary for a master’s in education, I’ll have to focus on all the subjects like math, science, and all that. I never thought of myself as teaching art because I thought that I might lose the passion for it if I did it as a job. All these experiences that  happened during traveling can be used to enrich students’ lives.

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