Exhibition “Light” by Nguyen Tan Cuong

Exhibition “Light” by Nguyen Tan Cuong

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Opening: Fri 20 Dec 2019, 5 pm
Exhibition: 20 Dec – 20 Jan 2020
Cuci Art Studio
Level 2, 25 Hang Bun, Ba Dinh, Hanoi

From the organizer:

Cuci Art Studio is pleased to present the solo exhibition, “Light” by Nguyễn Tấn Cương. The exhibition begins at 17:00, Friday, December 20, 2019 and will go until January 20, 2020, at Cuci Art Studio, Level 2, 25 Hang Bun, Ba Dinh, Hanoi. Cuci Art Studio will be introducing 20 new paintings.

Nguyen Tan Cuong’s “Light” have been conceived in shadows for a decade. This is Cuong’s first solo exhibition after ten years. To the art world, this period may seem like a hiatus. But shadows are as necessary to light. The artist’s new collection shows us a complete metamorphosis proving what period of silence can change in a man.

Cuong’s medium-size paintings evoke pain. One can feel the sensation of a burning skin and of being skinned alive in “Summer”; the thirst of the parched earth in “Rain”. There is also the spectacle of the halo of bomb smoke. The more one lingers into his brush strokes, his play of light and shadows, and the texture he created with jute – the more one is time-warped during a painful era in the life of the artist. An era which may be personal but it can also be social, like the USA-Vietnam war.

“I grew up during the war generation. I witnessed boundless human suffering,” said Cuong. Concrete images of the war are already strong but there is so much to it that one could never exhaust the depth of suffering it brought. The experience of suffering surfaces in his work through his technique of abstraction. In the current generation where stories of human suffering are saturated because of excessive information, abstraction is appropriate in conveying the experience. We are more drawn to the elusive rather than the convenient, the abstract than the concrete. It may not be Cuong’s intention but his pieces are turning to be emotionally educational especially to those who did not go through the war.

With Cuong’s life-size paintings, one can see how he came to terms with pain. These pieces are meditative and cosmological. His piece ‘Light’ is reminiscent of the atmosphere of medieval Catholic churches like the Sistine Chapel. The enormity of the piece brings us the feeling of immensity in a spiritual experience. What is remarkable in his turn towards the divine is his disobedience. In his medium-sized paintings, the image of the female genitalia is represented as a place of shelter and solace. In ‘Light’ and in his ‘Source’ series, the feminine is represented as the divine – a departure from the medieval tradition of the masculine symbol of God.

The feminine, may it be represented as genitalia or a silhouette, is central to Cuong’s work. However, the feminine seem to be at a far distance – in his own words, “difficult to grasp”. For Cuong, the feminine is the shadow, it is what he is trying to grasp. His paintings may lead us to the light (as the human brain is always drawn towards the light), but after spending time meandering about his works one is drawn further to the shadows. Tanizaki’s words “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty” is probably what captures Cuong’s “Light” exhibit. Afterall, his shadows are the women in his life – the matriarch, the lover, the daughter, and the divine. Shadow is his muse and light is what he brings us.

Nguyễn Tấn Cương
Raised in the art cradle of the South and having started work from the easel at the age of 12, Nguyen Tan Cuong (born in 1953, Ho Chi Minh City) pursued painting and graduated from The National College of Fine Arts Saigon in 1973. At this time, Southern Vietnamese art was still developing a sense of freedom and openness to international artistic trends and the Saigon art scene was where many of these exciting activities were happening.

Since the 1980s, Nguyen Tan Cuong has been practicing abstract art but it was not until artist Nguyen Trung returned from France in 1991 that Cuong devoted his full attention to his abstract art practice as a member of the “Group of 10”. Later, this abstract visual language became the trend, spreading throughout the art community from South to North. When discussing the history of abstract art in Vietnam, it is impossible to ignore the name of Nguyen Tan Cuong, along with his fellow artists, Ta Ty, Nguyen Phuoc, Nguyen Trung, Tran Van Thao, Do Hoang Tuong.

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