Hung Viet Nguyen, Sacred Landscape V # 32, 2021. Oil on wood panel, 48 x 84 inches. Courtesy the Artist.

Acclaimed local artist included in exhibitions that will launch expanded arts complex

Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum presents Sacred Path, featuring paintings by Torrance-based artist Hung Viet Nguyen. The exhibition showcases Nguyen’s highly textured painting technique, which imbues his landscapes and abstractions with a fantastical quality. Curated from his Ancient Pines series and Sacred Landscapes V series (2015–2021), the depictions of natural subjects and imagined scenes may seem unrelated. However, all featured paintings are united by nature and interconnected by an exploration of the universal life forces that unite spirit and matter. Sacred Path is on view from February 12–May 7, 2022.

Nature has long been a source of inspiration for Nguyen. Reverence for the environment has even been a lifeline. While attempting to escape Vietnam in the 1970s, the artist landed in a labor camp; his ability to appreciate the scenery—such as the red sun setting beyond a verdant mountain—helped him contend with physical exhaustion at the end of each day. Now settled in the South Bay, the self-taught artist continues to pay homage to nature through his painting practice. In a recent interview with Genie Davis for Artillery, Nguyen shared that he is called to nature as “a counterbalance” to city life, which led him to the creation of his Sacred Landscapes series. On a deeper level, the artist sees nature as a spiritual refuge, explaining, “When I need to, I go to the beach or the trail. I call it going to the temple. Nature to me is closer to God than [when I am] in a church.”

The Sacred Landscapes series draws from the imaginary, playing in the realm of whimsy while being rooted in the artist’s reality. These paintings are playgrounds for the artist as complex compositions are built from swirling layers of paint, scrupulous fields of bold color, and playful forms. Nguyen notes that these paintings “reflect my inner self [and] many factors of myself which perhaps I can understand, or I can’t.” Going further than self-reflection, the artist’s weird and wondrous works embrace all that is known and all that is unknown.

In addition to his unique impasto mark making techniques, Nguyen includes written words in his work on occasion. In Sacred Landscape V, #32, the names of his wife and mother are hidden within the grassy areas of the vast painting. The artist shared in Artillery: “I also wrote in this piece ‘into nature, open out senses, feeling/seeing, gentle and dangerous magnificent, ask no more, common, extraordinary.’” Words are not the only tiny details nestled within the sprawling work. Within an array of natural wonders, from glaciers, volcanoes, mountains, streams, and bodies of water—two pairs of figures are imbedded into the landscape—making the scene at once real and unreal. A section of geometric abstraction in the upper right corner also provides viewers with more eye candy to ponder.

Nguyen’s Ancient Pines series depicts the coastal rock formations and ancient bristlecone pine forests in California’s eastern Sierras, a specific landscape that he interfaces with regularly. These large-scale oil paintings explore existential questions that arise as the artist considers the forest itself. Painting from his photographs of the Big Pine city wilderness is an intuitive process. Nguyen shares in his artist statement, “the tree is real, [but] its guidance to create doesn’t have to be exact.” Each artistic choice transforms real scenes into dreamlike, semi-abstracted pictures that appear like kaleidoscopic visions. The artist acknowledged his flattened perspective in his interview with Artillery, asserting that he “create[s] space that isn’t restricting. You can look down or up, as you do when you are in nature.”

Hung Viet Nguyen’s paintings offer multifaceted perspectives on the world around us. Visitors of Sacred Path have the opportunity examine what is on the surface, what is obscured, and what is unseen in these works. Whether considering scenes inspired by nature, landscapes driven by the inner self, or abstract representations drawn from the sacred geometry of the torus shape—mindscapes are revealed through landscapes. Dramatic textures emphasize painterly material and innovative technique, but the transcendent celebration of landscape underscores the cyclical, ethereal, and ephemeral aspects of nature that is nuanced, fluid, and spiritual.

Related Event

March 15, 2020, noon | Community Gallery | Free
Tuesday Talks | Artist talk and walk-through: Hung Viet Nguyen
In this intimate tour, visitors will experience Nguyen’s paintings which unite environment, mind, and spirit—all related to artist’s consideration of the sacred geometry of the Torus, Daoist ideas of qi, and the cyclical nature of life force and psychophysical energies that permeate the universe and connect spirit and matter.

About Hung Viet Nguyen

Artist Hung Viet Nguyen was born in Vietnam in 1957. He studied Biology at Science University in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, then transitioned to working as an illustrator, graphic artist, and designer since settlement in the U.S. in 1982. He developed his artistry skills independently, studying many traditional Eastern and Western forms, media, and techniques. Nguyen’s complex, labor intensive investigations of oil paint reveal a methodical mastery of texture. While portions of Nguyen s work suggest the influence of many traditional art forms including woodblock prints, East Asian scroll paintings, ceramic art, mosaic, and stained glass, his ultimate expression asserts a contemporary pedigree. His work has been shown in many exhibitions and at Art Fairs.

Acknowledgements

Sacred Path was made possible by support from Cal State Long Beach Associated Students, Inc. Instructionally Related Activities fund, Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum Board of Advisors, Constance W. Glenn Endowment, William R. Svec Endowment, and Elizabeth & Charles Brooks Endowment.

About Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum

Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Contemporary Art Museum is a community of people who examine, critique, and create contemporary art and culture. The Museum hosts exhibitions and projects that serve students, campus communities and the public, working to build accessible educational opportunities around art and art making. Its recently completed renovation completely redesigned the Museum transforming it into an 11,000 square foot arts complex to. Re-opening to the public on February 12, 2022, several new exhibitions and public spaces allow the Museum to better serve visitors with more accessible upgraded facilities. As one of the few museums in the Greater Long Beach/Los Angeles area with free admission, inclusive policies and multi-use spaces make the new and improved Museum welcoming for everyone.

Upcoming Exhibitions include Linda Besemer: StrokeRollFoldSheetSlabGlitch (February 12–June 25, 2022) in the Main Gallery; Rita Letendre: Eternal Space (February 12–March 26, 2022) in the Mini Gallery; Hung Viet Nguyen: Sacred Path (February 12–May 7, 2022) in the Community Gallery; Mark Bradford: Lithographs (February 12–March 26, 2022) in the David Campagna Prints and Drawings Room; and Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld: In-Between the Silence (February 12–June 25, 2022) in the Carolyn Campagna Kleefeld Gallery.

Guided by its mission and vision, the Museum strives to be known as a learning community that explores abstraction, material innovation, and arts integration through the practices of artists of difference and a larger array of artists who help define the contemporary moment.