Hung Viet Nguyen
LAUNCH LA is proud to present Sacred Landscape by Hung Viet Nguyen. Sacred Landscape is a collection of landscapes of almost mystical serenity, fusing Nguyen’s schooling in the Eastern and Western painterly arts. Water swirls from heights, turns and levitates, the earth and rocks curve and twist into sinuous shapes: opposing landscapes threaten to collide and merge, or perhaps are frozen in separation like cells in mitosis.
In their colors and themes these paintings resonate with a common concept in Asian philosophy: Wu Xing – the five elements – wood, fire, metal, earth and water seen as forces which dictate universal law, the course of nature and the minutest human affairs. This influence manifests itself in willowy trees clinging to exposed rocks, in waves and the burning brightness of the sun, all part of the precarious balance which reigns in the natural world. Nguyen harnesses these disparate influences and elements and brings about a state in which harmony and symmetry flourish.
The hikes Nguyen has taken in different regions of the globe have a profound impact on his aesthetic sense, informing his use of colour, light and shape: “The salty scent of crashing waves, sheer canyons and cliffs rising and dropping in perspective, and the colors that only exists in the bright Southern California sun…these along with the floating clouds and stars in the night sky are the inspirations that guide me.” The dizzying and bare mountains of Asian scroll painting and the squat, enveloping mountain ranges of the Californian landscape are both identifiable in these mindscapes, as are the caves and hollow spaces under Vietnam – emerging through Nguyen’s heaped paint as primordial, sensual and almost anthropomorphic apertures, valleys and peaks.
Nguyen’s technique is laborious and intuitive: “I begin with a layer of thick base oil under-painting, where I organize land masses, sky space, and water boundaries. The body of the painting appears when I begin to put in the texture. Adding paint and scraping it away builds the texture and reveals the colors.” He usually works on more than one painting at the same time, letting paintings pull him back to them to add features and then release him to drift onto the next painting. Weeks go with the application of layers and stripping away of others, but almost organically, they seemingly finish at the same time. Paint accumulates and with the repeated scraping forms strange ridged and stratified bodies. Floral elements also feature quite heavily, rendered in pointillist dots and quilt-work patterns reminiscent of Gustav Klimt’s friezes. Once all the layers have dried Nguyen applies glazes to each area to achieve the colors he envisioned.
Visually and creatively, Nguyen’s landscape are like something awoken from our most ancient creation myths: he begins by dividing the celestial and earthly spheres, splitting them further into land and sea and finally setting in motion the blossoming of plant and animal life. Like some animistic force from Ong Troi, ‘The August Heaven’ of Vietnamese myth, he creates life and a place for it to live. Of this Nguyen says: “Nature is a sacred place; I always paint nature respectfully.”
His reverence for his subject matter is unmistakable.
Artist Hung Viet Nguyen was born in Vietnam in 1957. He studied Biology at Science University in Saigon, Vietnam, then transitioned to working as an illustrator, graphic artist and designer since settlement in the U.S. in 1982. He developed his artistry skills independently, studying many traditional Eastern and Western forms, media and techniques. Nguyen’s complex, labor intensive investigations of oil paint reveal a methodical mastery of texture. While portions of Nguyen’s work suggest the influence of many traditional art forms including woodblock prints, Oriental scroll paintings, ceramic art, mosaic, and stained glass, his ultimate expression asserts a contemporary pedigree.