Vietnamese artist Nguyen Phuoc

By Corinne de Ménonville

The generous flourishing of young Vietnamese talents since Doi Moi should not overshadow the painstaking work, often precursory, of the previous generation of painters. Among them, Nguyen Phuoc, a visionary artist and poet, has carved out a particularly significant place.

Nguyen Phuoc leads us into a dreamlike world painted with a great freedom of expression. A highly intensity exults from his visions, at times hallucinatory, which are filled with luxuriant fantasy. His universe radiates a strange poetry where fascination and mystery become intermingled. He defines a dialogue with the representation, which mixes together light and image to the highest harmony, somehow reminiscent of some of the works by the surrealists. Didn’t Breton actually refer to the “the light of the image”?

Born in 1943 in Saigon and settled in the United States since 1994,he began to paint as early as at 14 years old, and soon after his graduation from the Gia Dinh Advanced School of Fine Arts, he started to have his works exhibited. His works, at once, testify to the political upheavals and rifts that have torn his country apart.

Under the pressures of events, the artist seems to liberate himself from constraints of too academic rules to reach a world of anguish. Sometimes deadly pale figures, with ghostly allure, haunts a semi-desert landscape. Violence and strong colors, not clearly delineated, that seems to melt with distress, intensify further the gripping effect.

Like a disciple of Goya, he denounces the “Disasters of the War” with his painting, becoming a kind of free exercise sustaining an essential and obsessing reality. As a painter of the climax, his stroke seems to untie itself, like blown by and agonizing lyricism.

These visions with terrifying accents emerge to the conscious like by intermittent waves and alternate with a production where the metaphors are plentiful, but with a less tragic perspective. Drawing his inspiration from the deepest Vietnamese tradition, he places his figures in a floating world, rather ghostly as if with a piercing eye he managed to captivate the multi-formed life of terrestrial and celestian spheres.

By deliberately neglecting the rules of classical perspective, he disseminates in a pallid light his human representations, often accompanied by a bird – a heron – a recurring motive in his works, which has a strong symbolic power. The whiteness of the heron is that of the dreamed purity. By extension, the bird also evokes the principal abilities of man, or the superior state of the being close to the spiritual spheres.And like the thought without constraint, it is liberty.

A thoughtful and attentive artist, Nguyen Phuoc always devotes a great deal of care to his compositions, meticulously executed on large formats by an unfailing hand. His works are profuse in their themes, as well as in their trust, using a rich chromatic palette, sometimes rather contrasted, but most often dominated by the graduated colors of Earth and Water, the nourishing elements of life.

Painting bears upon Nguyen Phuoc like a liberating effect. When meeting the artist, no one could guess the torments or the visions one could unveil beyond his presence. A well-balanced man, always in search of the serenity of his atelier, anxious of the perfectibility of his techniques, he releases a dull strength, as if it is contained or repressed.

Once liberated from the impetuosity of the realms of fancy, he then is in a position to devote himself to a creation that is more directly poetic and romantic, but devoid of richness. In this respect, he also uses the lacquer techniques with great dexterity, in a totally decorative spirit, often flamboyant which reminds that work of Nguyen Gia Tri. The scenes unfold in a willingly lush nature around the themes of maternity, family life, young blossoming love, etc…themes which are deeply entrenched in Vietnamese literature and Vietnamese soul.

A prodigious and polyvalent artist, Nguyen Phuoc has also been interested in still-life. Under his generous brush, the antique ceramics – the other facets of the Vietnamese creativity – blend together with flowers and tropical leaves. His compositions then acquire a density that deserves reference to some Italians masters of the Seventeenth century. From there, and not without certain logic, he has also tried his hand at engraving, with no less talent. During the snowy evenings in Minnesota, where he is now settled, he finds in the engraving the precise medium which satisfies his love for the technique and which allows him to give full vent to his imagination without weakness.

The wealth of his inspiration, the quality of his technique, the depth of his themes, as well as his choice oriented towards the figurative onirism, are as many elements which give Nguyen Phuoc a distinct and deeply original place within the Vietnamese contemporary creation.