Art and the City

Artist Profile: Vu Nguyen

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Self portrait in the studio in Mechanicsburg, PA.

The beauty of light and clarity, water and life, draws your attention to the center of the painting, “Nine Dragon River Delta.” Look again, it is being enveloped by a dark new reality. The timeless balance of life cycles in this region of Vietnam is dying.

Vu Nguyen grew up there. He swam in that river. Fished. No one does now. Industry rules, and factories can dump anything they want. You see it in the painting…the dark unidentified blobs that suffocate life and generate a deadly landscape.

Vu goes back regularly to this region about 80 miles south of Ho Chi Minh City. The flowers and fruit trees are gone. “One river is so black, is it even water?”

“Open Skies Number One”, oil/acrylic/marker/ballpoint pen on canvas, 55″ x 55″, 2013

Between ecological disaster and climate change, which is shortening the monsoon season and lengthening the dry season, the farms of his ancestors lie fallow. The government does nothing.

Vu came to this country in 1989 when he was 12. After high school he joined the Navy and became a medic for six years. He returned to art, his first love, at the Pennsylvania College of Art at Lancaster. Being around other artists and professors changed him—“how I thought and how I saw.”

He has been developing his own ways of telling a visual story ever since. His body of work is not “cohesive,” but it is all culturally based—personal. Conscientious.  You see this is such diverse works such as Open Skies #1, an explosion of geometric forms, which, when you really look at it, reorders itself into a volatile ever-changing landscape.

“Gathering” comes from a series of works that could have derived from a Surrealist Manifesto. Suggestive forms ooze from beneath forbidding walls, consuming a light-reflecting surface.

“Nine Dragon River Delta”, oil on canvas, 60″ x 40″, 2017

Vu Nguyen has received his MD in Internal Medicine from the Ross University School of Medicine and is currently an outpatient intern in Harrisburg, PA.

You can see more of his diverse subject matter and techniques at www.vuquocnguyen.com, and his painting “Nine Dragon River Delta” this month at the Foundry Gallery. (See, At the Galleries.)

Jim Magner’s Thoughts on Art
Does art have any chance of changing human nature, or is it, at best, a dreamer’s fantasy of beauty and a better world? The anti-war paintings of Picasso and Goya are called “powerful,” but have they stopped one bullet from being fired or one bomb from being dropped?

The paintings of Vu Nguyen (see: Artist Profile) are likewise powerful, if less graphic. They reach into your conscious understanding of the natural world—and your heart. As the stories become clear, your heart breaks.

Factories turn rivers into industrial sewers and the government does nothing to stop them. Will Vu’s paintings have any effect on the crime being committed in Vietnam?

“Gather”, oil on canvas, 48″ x 36″, 2010

Can my paintings have any effect on the crime being committed in Annapolis? In this Chesapeake Bay estuary, developers send their tons of excavated dirt down into the creeks that feed the rivers that feed the Bay.

The creeks that Indians lived by and fished for millennia are becoming mud flats. Nobody cares. They are violating Federal law, but nobody cares. Environmentalists scream about the Grand Staircase in Utah, but where is the outrage over little Church Creek?

The Maryland delegation could add some dollars to the Corps of Engineers 2019 appropriation for dredging and restoration—they could start with a study—but they won’t. 

So, my paintings, like those of Vu Nguyen, will have no impact. Zero. That is the grim reality of the impact of art on a society. Just hang pretty pictures on your walls. 

 

At the Galleries

Foundry Gallery
2118 – 8th Street, N.W.
Feb 28 – Apr 1
Opening reception, Sat, Mar. 3, 5 – 8 

This all-member exhibit by nineteen of the gallery’s artists is a trip into the mind: memories of people and places—some pleasant and some disorienting and disturbing. Here are four works that expressively represent the theme: 

“Nine Dragon River Delta. Vu Nguyen (See: Artist Profile) mixes childhood memories with a new reality—the dying Vietnamese landscape. 

“Three Elegies for Douglas Berggren No. 6.”  Jay Peterzell salutes a philosopher and professor whose “depth of mind and mischievous humor vanished from the world with his death last year.”  

“Cabin.” Duly Noted Painters, Kurtis Ceppetelli and Matt Malone, memorialize a retreat at Deep Creek Lake where artists could escape the city and spend time with friends. 

“Sky.” Gregory O’Hanlon’s “disorienting, poetic and immensely vertical” photograph takes him to a “new strain of natural mysticism.”     

www.foundrygallery.org.

 

“Viewfinders: Eight Photographers”
Hill Center Galleries
921 Pennsylvania. Ave. SE
Mar 1-Apr 29
Opening Reception: Wed., Mar. 7, 6:30—8:30 

This new show is actually eight solo exhibitions. Collectively, they provide a celebration of approaches and techniques. Here are some snippets, but you have to see the show to appreciate the full visual extravaganza.

  • Karen Cohen. “Surreality.” Digitally manipulations that manifest places and characters based on mythology, psychedelia, pop culture and current events. 
  • Jane Mann. “Layers II.” These are “photomontages that superimpose images of architectural details one atop the other just as cultures build on each other.”
  • Bruce McNeil. “In the Land of Eden.” Bruce always captures the “poetic and lyrical beauty of our natural world and its people,” but here he connects people and their places to “ecological and societal realities.”
  • Mike Mitchell. “Four Seasons in the C&O Canal National Historic Park.” These are stunning photographs of the haunting and mysterious C&O Canal, a whole new encounter with a familiar place. 
  • Rindy O’Brien. “Anticipating Spring:” The images are flowers, but the real subjects are color and composition, new light and warm shadows.
  • Larry O’Reilly.  “Contemporary Still Lifes.” Startling visions of the expected but with a powerful simplicity that becomes illusionary. They seem suspended in time and space.
  • Monica Servaites. “Downside Up.” These delightful visual puzzles produce patterns that can stand on their own, but always bring you back to a realization of the components of city life.
  • Richard Paul Weiblinger. “Unique Visions.” High in intensity, color and focus—the “visions” are a transformation of the mundane—usually the ignored subcomponents of a manufactured civilization.