Interview with Artist Luu Tuyen: Exploring “Perfect Reality” through the Glaze of...

Interview with Artist Luu Tuyen: Exploring “Perfect Reality” through the Glaze of Epoxy

Perfect Reality 7 – Luu Tuyen

Written by Uyen Ly for Hanoi Grapevine.

Luu Tuyen – the artist – makes his comeback after 6 years with his solo exhibition “Perfect Reality” at the Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts from 5 – 11 Jun. “Perfect reality” includes 32 artworks that drive us to reflect the past and the reality. With a depth of mystery, the painted objects are separated from the audience by a layer of clear, fractured epoxy resin. Yet it is as if they want to rise from the painting surface and connect with us. Of a quiet, resilient beauty, the ancient china, the doll-like girls, the old architectures silently glow beneath; looking at them is much like looking at objects through a display case in a museum. The only difference is that this case has been smashed, worn out, fractured, mixed with colors and gold & silver on their surface.

“Some say my works are rich in philosophy, in idealogy, thus making them hard to be appreciated, but an artist does only what he wants, it should not matter much to him whether his art is easy or hard to comprehend. I myself only express what reality has absorbed in me, crashed into me. Human reflect reality.”

– Luu Tuyen

Hanoi Grapevine had the chance to meet with the artist the morning he brought the paintings to exhibit at the museum. He stayed up until the morning to finished them, he told us, some are damaged at the last minute, some dust stuck onto the uppermost epoxy layer, and while the compound was hardening, its “unorganized” elasticity caused the layer to not turn out the way he wanted it to. So then he stayed up all night to re-make the layer, waited for it to dry, burnished it, waited for it to dry once more, again and again until he was happy with the result… “Hard work, but so interesting” – he added, his tired face brightened up.

What would you say about this series?

HUMAN is always the center of everything in this world. All are made for the sake of human. Thus landscapes and objects alike tell a great deal about the rich cultural values of humankind.

In the modern world, many of these values are deteriorating because of our lifestyle, by technologies, by social networks and its downside, all which make one forget important things, make one drawn to only shocking, “breaking news”. Instead of enriching ourselves with, about, 10 pieces of useful knowledge each day (like what we do 10-20 years ago), now we go by hundreds and thousands of brief, shallow information.

From spiritual to material cultures, I got this feeling of sympathy, a longing for genuine values that are fading away. An artist’s wish is to express his thoughts, his feelings. It is not for criticizing, but for loving what create true values.

Vỏ bọc của hồi sinh 2 (Façade of Rebirth) – Luu Tuyen

In your previous solo exhibition, doll figures are also present. What is the difference between then and now?

Art is an artist’s journey of self-expression. I did research, but it is not the primary objective, because you express what you already have inside. If you didn’t already have these burning questions, this passion inside, you would never find it even if you search high and low. As for practicing art, it is an ever-changing process. Such interesting things could be retrieved from what we think are failures! I discovered epoxy resin in 2013 while working on sculptures, and then it came to me, why not use it as a medium instead of a protective layer for paintings?

What we consider a failure (not occurring according to plan) can turn out to be much more exciting, for examples, the fractures. When I used epoxy to gloss over the surface of the paining and left it to dry in a hot, dry weather, the oil paint layers beneath fractured. Then I realize this could be a method of expression, as this cracks have light running through them, creating an effect like the nylon surface that I created back then. Working with epoxy give you a lot of experiences too, some are happy and magical, and when you drip and splash epoxy, it creates a very abstract effect.

As for doll figures, well, artists are usually influenced by a certain model. My first series was “Vỏ bọc” (Façade) with the images of Russian dolls. After then I want to create a Vietnamese-like dolls, with an iconic, distinct Asian face.

Why is it that you are into doll figures?

It’s because of my childhood, I liked dolls when I was young. Back in the days of subsidy economy, I get to see a doll, its crystal-clear eyes, its proportions, its chubbiness, its flowing hair, her figure is so endearing and I liked it. Dolls are more relatable to little girls than boys. When I grew up, there a well-defined line between boys’ and girls’ games. Even though I liked the doll, and I could only look, and came to memorize it. Later on, it became a supporting character in my painting, lying in the corner or on a chair behind the main subject. Then I thought why not breathe a little life into an object, though it was a tough challenge. To breathe life into a person is hard enough, not to mention an object.

Perfect Reality 5 – Luu Tuyen

Why does it seem that you’re quite and out of the public’s eye? Your artist profile consists of only a few lines on your solo and group exhibitions. It is such a challenge to even see your paintings online.

It’s because this practice of art I’m following takes a lot of time to finish, each painting could take up months or even years. I understand we cannot determine the quality of works by the amount of time needed to finish them, but time is what I need. And so I could only produce a limited number of artworks each year, it’s only sufficient for the demand from art collectors. I make about 10-15 paintings per year, then they are all bought up by collectors.

My paintings are quite selective in terms of theirs audience too. Most of these folks are ones with strong, if eccentric, personalities with very distinctive perspectives.

Even when I join exhibitions or art fairs oversea, bookings are made a year in prior – from partners, sponsors or collectors.

It is said that you have done many other jobs in order to pursue your art education?

Well, to the public, it is what effects you created, what reactions you evoke, what identity you created for yourself and for art that matter in the end. Every artist has their own struggles, I don’t consider myself to be in hardship, it is already a privilege being able to practice art. Those who works wholeheartedly all has their own struggles – spiritually, emotionally or physically.

An artist who has passion only works for himself. I was willing to do anything to make ends meet, because you know, paintings are not easy to sell at the beginning [of the career]. Art collectors were looking for those who have already has a name, a definitive style of sort, and even if they did buy my works it was at a moderate price. Around 15 years ago, each of my work values at only 500 USD. At that time, as a student, that amount is enough for the next 2-3 months to nurture your passion. Then the price gradually rises, your style was taking shape, and you got more attention from collectors.

And oh, why don’t we talk more about epoxy resin and the meaning it conveys?

Yes of course, could you describe your process of working with the materials, the effects it creates, maybe some interesting findings or errors?

Epoxy resin gives you a fresh visual effect – a modern-looking surface. Even if beneath the content, the object painted are “old news”, but the glazed surface give out such a modern feel, in style with the contemporary interior and the architecture. The next thing is that it provides a different view comparing with what our eyes are used to like oil, lacquer, watercolor, etc. Epoxy resin has this new, luxurious, mysterious feeling to it. It is difficult to create the same effects with other materials. With epoxy, I feel like it has a way to touch my soul. And certainly it is impossible to create replicas with epoxy resin present. This is because the original artist had to do a lot of burnishing, sometimes maybe a centimeter thick, other times he has to layer the compound, or mix in colors, or gold & silver leaves (like the traditional method with lacquer paintings). It creates a much better effect though, with this feel of depth thanks to the thick, translucent layers.

Epoxy resin is also very durable. A layer on the side of boat could help the thing endure everything from sea salt, sunlight, storms, to the strong waves at sea. Weather or environment factors don’t have much effect on this material.
If you want to see which materials is more durable out of epoxy resin and lacquer, do some experiment! – leave it out in the sun, soak in water, or stab on its surface (laugh). Nothing is absolute, but I was very surprised that it has that much strength. I used much force, even different method, but could not crush it.

Bao vat 8 (Treasure 8) – Luu Tuyen

Are these fractures a metaphor for reality?

My view of art is that art is not for story-telling but for giving out information – like a messenger (in the Bible). The more layer of information in an artwork, the more compatible it is for people with different intellectual levels. It can convey meanings, metaphors, but what I want is for people to make the connection themselves, it is not me who illustrate the story.
For my art, I need it to have a certain level of mystery. It’s like when you appreciate a masterpiece, you need to read more about it in order to understand its meaning, though at the beginning you only perceive it as a very beautiful, very famous work. Yet when you read about it, you would be surprised by its many layers of meaning.

Many seem to think that these fractures represent those in the artist’s life?

Yes, but not entirely, those maybe a piece of my mind or of a turbulence in my career. A funny example, when I got to Rome and saw the “masterpieces” with my own eyes, my heart broke a little, thinking how small, how talentless I was. It is a beautiful kind of fracture. I was stressed for a while, and after that this “rupture” changed me, I told myself I have to try harder, to do my very best, because no matter what I am privileged to live and to practice my art – it is a blessing, a happiness – then I have to do it with faith and fight until my last breath.

Thank you very much.

Related post
What Artists Say about Lưu Tuyền’s “Perfect Reality”

Translated by Hanoi Grapevine

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