Reinventing Technical Painting Techniques

Vietnamese American artist, Christine Nguyen's exhibition at the re-opened 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong, showing through April 7, is a welcome departure from current global tensions.

For those who believe that contemporary art could be divided into artists who create in a subjective bubble and artists who are inspired by current social and political events, Nguyen would belong to the former. Harmonic Cosmic Sea Waves is a nebulous world where traditional techniques are re-invented and salt crystals become catalysts.

Nguyen is a Los Angeles native, born into a Vietnamese family of fishermen. This is her second exhibit in Hong Kong and her first solo show to inaugurate the re-opening of 10 Chancery Lane's gallery in Central. Her work belongs in prominent collections in Los Angeles – UCLA's Hammer Museum and the Getty Research Institute.

This exhibition is centered around the mural which gave the title to the exhibition – Harmonic Cosmic Sea Waves. It was done by "combining drawing and photographic processes," Nguyen says. "'Negatives' are drawn on layers of Mylar, which are projected onto light-sensitive paper. The paper is developed in a color processor, creating a camera-less, photographic image. In addition to watercolor and ink, I use materials such as saltwater, seaweed, coral, minerals and crystals to manipulate the 'negative' and the print. The total process is similar to that of making a photogram."

Nguyen's originality comes in part from these hybrid processes, which she continues to develop. Her newest works – exhibited in the show, entitled Arroyo Secco – are Cyanotypes, a rudimentary photographic process which is the result of sunlight onto light sensitive paper on which objects have been directly placed. Nguyen's objects are collected from the sea, reminding us of her origins. These different techniques and motifs create varied levels.

The cyanotypes are matte whereas all the other works seem to glow. The colors easily veer to neon without back-lighting or other artificial light sources, which pushes the viewer further into a cosmic sphere. This is in part due to the way the artist constructs the work. Nguyen's larger pieces are mounted using uniform panels of the photographic paper, creating a grid effect.

As Katie de Tilly commented during her introduction of the artist, "each panel has a frame of light around it and this heightens the grid." It also makes our eye stop and go after each panel. For Nguyen, this can encourage the viewer to a spiritual level. Facets from the salt crystals become brilliant stars or Milky Ways that punctuate the pieces.

Although Nguyen has had success with her very large scale mural works, her smaller pieces, like A Good Beginning in Suspension or Caverns are moving have a more coherent composition which the larger pieces lose.

Christine Nguyen presents her primordial world at 10 Chancery Lane until April 9th. Choosing this inventive artist to re-open with in Hong Kong is a testament to hope and a colorful future.