Rethinking Cartoons with Grapevine Collaborating Artist Loc Huynh

“I paint to reinterpret…paint can be another way to reinterpret things.” An interview with Meow Wolf Grapevine collaborating artist Loc Huynh.

When you’re a kid, cartoons are usually the easiest place to get stories, art, and music. There are books and arts and crafts, but you can’t drive yourself to the library or the art museum if you’re bored, and most of us aren’t raised around the orchestra or theater. Cartoons are often our first access to art and storytelling. 

Loc Huynh’s favorite cartoon growing up was Ed, Edd and Eddy. The show focuses on a group of kids eating jawbreakers and hanging out in the neighborhood. The Cul-De-Sac is a familiar setting and art style for most millennials–especially those of us who grew up to become skateboarding, music-loving tattooed adults. 

illustration of a child holding a pterodactyl toy in one hand and a helicopter in the other hand and sitting on the floor
Artwork provided by Loc Huynh

“It was a very silly, slice-of-life show that was low stakes and down-to-earth and absurd. I’ve tried to carry that sense into adulthood,” says Loc.

Cartoons are colorful, stylized lenses through which to view the world, giving us more perspectives on our reality. As opposed to live-action television and sitcoms, cartoons are not limited by the same rules of reality. Animation can depict almost any situation or creature or scene imaginable, and with every style an artist puts into motion, our perception of the ‘real’ world expands. Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and the Disney Channel were where many of us went after school or on a Saturday morning, and where we had our first encounters with the world of storytelling, acting, art, and music.

“Growing up, I didn’t read a ton, or have a lot of novels or reading materials around,” says Huynh. “Most of the books and homework I had were in English, and so having parents that were first-generation, we didn’t have that same ritual of bedtime stories and stuff. So we had picture books and watched a lot of cartoons…Genndy Tartakovsky was another one of my favorites—Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack. That refined art style with those hard lines. It was very stylistic, fast-paced, frenetic.” 

Tartakovsky’s stark and angular animation style is a tangible influence on Huynh’s work with texture and linework, and his point of view on memory and 90s nostalgia.

Illustration with the view looking down at a young child laying on the floor and coloring in a notebook
Artwork provided by Loc Huynh

“Trading cards were, and still are, another avenue into art for me,” says Huynh. “A binder of Pokémon cards was like the coolest picture book. And no matter how beat up or ratty a card got (and I always tried to protect mine with sleeves) it was always the art that was most important and that caught your eye, even if it was a Common card.” 

For the same reason we hold on to beat-up Common cards for their art and personal meaning, protecting our optimism and passions from our childhood are equally important. Even as adults, cartoons provide us with a sense of nostalgia, renewed optimism, and a recovered perspective on our world. Just watch one of your old favorites and see how many jokes you didn’t catch the first time around. 

“I’ve been reminding myself that adults create [what is seen as] ‘children’s media.’ But rewatching these shows as an adult, you catch stuff you didn’t as a kid, and [I’ve tried to keep] that playfulness and storytelling aspect of cartoons [in my work],” Loc says.

Many of the themes in Huynh’s work are connected to that nostalgia, playing with the childhood sense of domesticity and family, as well as the fantastic.

illustration of a male-presenting character riding a horse that also looks like a dragon and waving a cowboy hat in the air
Artwork provided by Loc Huynh

“I paint to reinterpret. I love cowboy paintings, like those old Americana, Cowboy paintings. I don't exactly love the paintings [themselves], but I love reinterpreting them and subverting them. I reference cowboy and western tropes a lot in my work mostly because I was exposed to cowboy art just by living in Texas and going to school here. I'm just making cowboy art that I wanted to see blended with East Asian imagery. Paint can be another way to reinterpret things.” 

His work with photographs similarly transmutes memory, story, and character into art. By taking a photograph and the memory within, he uses paint to re-render in texture and line while still retaining the sentimentality of the moment. 

illustration of a child with an elbow on the table, drawing a dinosaur on notebook paper with crayons
Artwork provided by Loc Huynh

“Go Go Godzilla” in particular depicts a self-portrait of the artist as a young boy. “A lot of times, you see an artist do a self-portrait in the studio, and drawing as a kid, that was like my first studio. I love creature-based media, like Pokémon, and dinosaurs. Any time I go to a new city, I go to the art museum of course, but I also like to go to natural science museums and check out the exhibits.”

Engaging audiences at the new Meow Wolf installation in Grapevine, Texas is also on Huynh’s mind, as he prepares for the exhibition’s installation. 

“Delegating and organizing are the hardest aspects of it, but it’s really exciting. I’m looking forward to checking out the physical space, and seeing how it goes from just digital on my iPad or whatever, to reality, to the physical.”

When that physical space is realized and open for visitors to explore, Huynh hopes they will have a sense of nostalgia or sentimentality when they encounter his work.

“I can’t control what people will feel in response to my work but I think of my art as an antidote to cynicism. I feel like in most art, or even with most artists, there’s a sense that if [what you’re making] is sentimental it’s corny, or that you’re being dishonest if you’re being fun and silly, or that somehow art is more real if it’s morose. There’s a harsh reaction to optimism. But whether it’s corny or not, there’s a truth to sentimentality, and something genuine about corniness.”

Loc’s optimism imbues his work with an approachability and nostalgia, tenderness, and love. Combatting reality’s cynicism with that love, you can find his installation at the newly opened Meow Wolf Grapevine

Peek into Loc Huynh's room for Grapevine here.