An art exhibition 10 years in the making

Born in Tra Vinh Province in 1975, Saigon-based painter Lieu Nguyen Huong Duong is preparing to mark the completion of his first decade as an artist with an exhibition of new works created over the last year. “I have chosen the title of this solo exhibition of my work to be Memory,” says Duong. “The reason is that I want the paintings of the collection to bring together all the memories of the first 10 years of my artistic career. I want to transmit to the viewers all of the flavors of life that I have experienced through a series of paintings that are alive with color.”

A 2001 alumnus of the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts University, Duong spent the first few years following his graduation experimenting with different forms and styles before ultimately gravitating in 2004 to a practice in which one can clearly see the influence of the action painting school pioneered by 20th century American artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Acknowledging an affinity for the action painting school, he demurs, however, that his influences are multiple and his current practice is the result of an ongoing process that has taken him increasingly down his own unique path as his confidence and abilities have grown.

Lieu Nguyen_Ke Mong Mo_ Dreamer_2014_Acrylic on canvas_150 x 150 cm

In terms of composition, Duong’s completed work to date is most naturally divided between landscapes – verdant forests, rocky beaches, cherry blossoms – and a style of portraiture that ranges from the distinctly figurative to the more abstract works of his ongoing Alone series. In the two Alone paintings included in the present collection, Duong uses a glossy enamel paint most typically used industrially on cars and houses. His trademark landscapes are primarily done in acrylics.

Slightly reticent when asked to speak about creating his work, Duong relies greatly on feeling and a type of inspiration that borders on the spiritual as he describes it. He does not paint daily but rather in spurts as the urge seizes him. Duong works in a large studio in which lying distributed on the floor are typically several large and small canvases in various states of completion. As classical music plays in the background, Duong works on becoming himself a piece of art as he inevitably ends up covered in paint from his ministrations above the canvases. The paintings resulting from this process have a flowing, lyrical quality that is more suggestive of poetry than of prose. He is telling us stories of life and of himself but always doing so elliptically leaving us to ponder on the exact meaning of his work and where he stands in relation to it.

Lieu Nguyen_Cuoc Song_Life_2014_Acrylic on canvas_100 x 200 cm x 2 panel

In Duong’s debutant exhibition entitled Where Is He Going?
in 2005 and his 2010 solo exhibition Dream of Humanity, his figurative work featured full human figures though often abstracted to the point that features and even gender were indeterminate. With Memory, Duong has turned his hand fully to portraiture, and, in the case of Memory 1, self-portraiture. What is apparent is that he has achieved a greater mastery of his own practice and is moving from a more inchoate state in his work to a more contained and more evolved style that closely resembles the person he has become.

“Of course it is only when we believe in what we are creating that we can progress and that is certainly the case with an artistic practice,” he says. “Having painted these past 10 years I have started to feel my confidence growing, not least because my works have been well favored by collectors in Vietnam and abroad. During this time each of my works has its own line of feeling and its own life. So I think that I have to do whatever I can to maintain those feelings and to develop and make them stronger.”

The opening reception for Lieu Nguyen Huong Duong’s Memory will take place on January 23, 2015 from 6pm to 9pm at Craig Thomas Gallery (27i Tran Nhat Duat, D1).