Written by Ut Quyen for Hanoi Grapevine
Please do not copy or re-post without the permission of the author and Hanoi Grapevine
Nguyen Xuan Luc’s first solo painting exhibition is taking place at the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum until 18 Mar 2019. More than 30 lacquer paintings reflect his contemplation on the uncertainty and impermanence human life as “floating dust particles in space”, that lead the audience to a world of infinite imaginations.
Hanoi Grapevine had the opportunity to meet and listen to the artist talking about the process of realizing this exhibition.
“When I started painting, I only had a honest desire to paint it “pretty enough” to make money. But later on, changes in perspective made my artistic language different from what I began with. That brought along many economic difficulties, as my works are no longer as easy to sell as before. But as I said, I’m someone who can’t forever do the same thing. I need changes, need to do the things I enjoy every day.”
– Nguyen Xuan Luc
How did the idea for “Particles” come to you?
In 2015, when I started making the first two artworks of this series, the idea of the “Particles” exhibition was not really defined. It was not until “Particles in space” was made in 2016, which won Third Prize at Young Fine Arts Festival 2017 at VCCA, that the idea was clear. Although it is said that an idea was defined, I did not just paint and paint in the past three years. If you look at a whole series, you can also realize changes in perspective in each small phase. As for the images, I also looked for different ways of expression.
To deeply explore a topic and paint about it for a long time without making the works boring or repetitive is not easy. But every time I feel stuck and find a way to overcome it, I shed off old things and reinvent myself. It is like an extremely difficult process of moulting. After breaking the deadlock, I would find myself to be different than before, filled with new ideas and creative inspiration.
Can you let us know more specifically, how did you break each deadlock? Where did your inspiration come from or how did you find a new direction on your way of practicing art?
I do not have to find inspiration at some far away places, but try to dig deep into the inner world within me. When I feel stuck, I would stop drawing and take the time to pay close attention to my emotions when I interact with reality, and then the suggestions that might come to me out of the blue. Anything I see or read like images on the internet, patches of moss on the wall, stains of dust…, evoking certain emotions in me, can become a source of inspiration for my art.
Recently, I haven’t been drawing sketches, so changes can always occur when I work. When I paint, I always rely on the random factors of lacquer to develop the work until it is completed. I only have the idea in my head as the starting point and then the end is when I am satisfied with the emotional effects and the aesthetic reflecting on the painting surface. That’s why I could not know what my painting would look like until I finish it. This makes me very excited, as though I will arrive at some place completely unfamiliar, and I got to see many new things on every step of the journey.
To rely on the spontaneity of lacquer to paint sounds easy. But if one who does not master the techniques of lacquer will not know how to rely on it. Do you think that coming from a craft village and having mastered traditional lacquer techniques are the advantages that allow you to become an artist?
It is more difficult actually. I don’t deny that having good techniques is a must to make good paintings. But mastering completely the techniques, sometimes becoming a shackles for the painter, making them too dependent and unable to break out. The more one masters the techniques, the harder it is to get out of that dependence.
How did you break out from the dependence on techniques?
Maybe it’s because I’m someone who can’t forever do the same thing, I always need changes to not feel bored. It is the same when I paint, I always look for things that are different from what I had made earlier to not allow repetition to numb emotions. I am always aware that media and techniques are just means of expressing ideas and emotions. Overcoming limitations in techniques is not easy, but it is much more difficult to overcome the prejudices in your own mind. Once I gave up my prejudices, my foundation of techniques helped me be more proactive in expressing emotions in my works.
Is the desire to always renew yourself the reason for you to become a painter and not an artisan, though you were born in a raden craft village and received training since young?
Actually, I got involved visual arts by chance and not by plan. When I was growing up, the craft of raden in my hometown still was still alive, but things were becoming difficult. The general mindset of most people in my hometown then was to leave the place, going to the outer world. I was also influenced by that thinking, so after finishing high school, I went to Hanoi looking for my own future. I chose to enroll in Hanoi University of Industrial Fine Arts with the intention of studying lacquer, and then open a lacquer & raden workshop.
After graduating, I worked as a designer and production manager at a handicraft import-export company to gain experience to establish my workshop. At that time I never thought I would become a painting artist. Four years of hard work there made me realize that doing business was definitely not for me, which meant that the idea of opening a handicraft workshop was no longer interesting (as it would involve a lot of production process and business). At the end of 2010, I quitted my job and started painting at home. I could not explain why I have been painting constantly since and I never get bored still. But I don’t think there will be a day when I give up painting.
Having been following your progress since the very first series until now, I saw you “shedded” yourself in the painting many times. Aren’t you afraid that if you change that often, at some point your audience will no longer recognize you?
What I want to change is the emotional state in the work rather than changing completely the style of expression. With the same topic, I need to look for more perspectives, more emotional states. I consider painting as going on a journey and thus there will always be changes. Even if you travel for a second time on the same road, the scene is probably never the same as before.
Thank you for sharing with us!
See more artworks from the exhibition below: