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Vo Hong Nguyen's journey into space (December 23, 2003)

Dien Bien Phu.
Like millions of other Vietnamese children of the time, Vo Hong Nguyen's most enduring memories of his childhood are being locked up inside his home longing for his parents to return.

Those were the bleak days of the former subsidised economy, when people felt that their children were safest if they were kept at home. Like most of his contemporaries, Nguyen got into the habit of gazing out at the sky, his view of the world strictly restricted by the frames of the windows. He would chat to his friends through the narrow gap they afforded, and would even play cards through the bars.

When he grew up Nguyen determined to be an artist - but his latest work still shows the effects of those long-ago days: many of his paintings contain echoes of the windows which shut him off from the world;

"I take pleasure in placing multicoloured window frames among the spaces. Behind those tiny windows are the destinies of millions of different people," Nguyen said.

His first solo exhibition, called Time and Space, is now on in Hanoi. More than 30 of his paintings, in a variety of materials including oil, lacquer, acrylic or mixed media, are on display.

Unlike the majority of contemporary painters, who pursue the cult of the abstract, Nguyen has doggedly explored his own vision based on the beauty of the local landscapes. "Each work represents confidence, reminiscence and condensed space... which I tried to express with a burning, boundless passion," he said.

Born in 1976 at Hai Duong province, Nguyen graduated from Hanoi Institute of Industrial Arts in 2000. Since then, he has drawn landscapes and scenes of everyday life but he has even so found himself moving more towards abstract forms - but with a difference.

"The abstract here is in fact the opposite pole of the real, and indeed reality by its very nature exists under non-symbolic and non-visual systems," one art critic, Phan Cam Thuong, pontificated. "Such sensations will probably fit an abstract language in which many things are meant but not many precise expressions can be found."

Nguyen said that he wanted to portray all the objects and phenomena that surround him - from the simplest things he saw as a child such as an old section of wall, windows illuminated by his dreams or the passing of time expressed by falling leaves.

For beauty, he believes, is ever-present, but the problem is finding it in everyday things and portraying them with enough emotion so that it can be perceived by others.

"I cherish colours and constantly use them in my paintings - especially strong colours, which I hold dear. I like disintegrating patches of colour or the marks of spills. I think that where there is decay, there is also the possibility of rebirth."

Another critic, Luong Xuan Doan, said the impact of the colours in Nguyen's work made him think of sleeping in the daytime but dreaming as vividly as though it was night.

"I think Vo Hong Nguyen really gets to the point when he immerses himself in the phantasmagoric and extremely profound rhythms of lacquer painting."

Reprinted with permission from Nhan Dan Newspaper


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