Space and Form
Flying bodies or torsos, dreary landscapes, non-spatial rooms, balls, wings and trappings of socialist culture - the findings in Nguyen Xuan Huy’s images are at first glance disparate, disjointed and obviously individually influenced. Common to all his works are an oppressive atmosphere, which unsettles the viewer to be vexed visually.
The spatial stagings act theatrically; the landscapes, often immersed in an apocalyptic darkness, suggesting a breadth that perhaps has no constituent. In his earlier pictures, the figurations are projected onto a neutral background, white or black, and thus a spatial perspective gauge is virtually impossible. But even in the more recent works, space isn’t so easily perceived. The space is expressed with a view-blocking wall in the background, additionally by a demarcation to back ground, or the space will sink into the featureless darkness.
Nguyen’s early works tell of his native home, Vietnam. The distance can be felt, a distance that comes from the geographical separation, but also because of the proximity, home is where the heart is - the emotional closeness is clearly still ominous. As baroque angels hover or fly their naked bodies through the air, only at a second glance can you notice their twisted limbs are deformed. The legacy of those born after the great war of Vietnam is a grave story; it is the children of Agent Orange, the appalling vegetation poison, where tons of defoliant poison was discarded over the jungles of Vietnam, and even a generation after the war, the effects are still felt. These effects being of genome changes and mutated bodies. Nevertheless, these angels always seem to be in high spirits, as in a Chinese opera, with so much pathos celebrating both the hammer and sickle and the blessings of victorious socialism apotheosis. So much euphoria can only result in suspicion. The dance, which is presented to the viewer here, has more of a subterranean totem dance feel, as a follower of Bacchus. Their frozen faces of joy wearing a poisonous sting.
Riding the Dragon
In the work "The Dream" (2011), a nude sits in a farm cart with sunglasses and a summer hat on, pointing to the viewer (or the painter) with an insignia, the power of socialism. Absurd plush toys, such as a tiger and a snake, also sit in the cart, lush, but also destroyed exotic jungle flowers in pots are set pieces, forming a stage which is set against a black room. What greets us here, a lured false paradise, or is it a contemporary interpretation of the ‘Ship of Fools’?
In "The Break" (2011-2012) cheerful naked centaurs and mutation populate the canvas (or Pegasus like creatures, but with chicken wings). They defend the jungle they are in with machine guns. The painting conveys something like a playful ballet show or an advertisement for a kind Jurassic Park like film, more an RTL jungle camp, then an actual military conflict. The socialist fatherland appears more and more exposed to the temptations of capitalism.
In "Falling" (2013) the disaster is complete. A rather gloomy landscape overthrows two bodies, of which little more than the legs can be seen. Two buckets accompany their fall. They pose tangled in which a strange white light encircling and illuminating the environment immediately surrounding them, it seems to come from them. Balls of an indefinable material, like soap bubbles, are floating in the middle of their fall. These sphere shapes appear in the newer images again and again, foreign elements? Strange force fields? Or purely formal elements?
Biting irony of a profound melancholy worldview, is what we are met with in Nguyen Xuan Huy’s images. The constant presence of erotic lure is repeatedly broken by latent danger - the presences of weapons, threatening crashes and challenging bodily forms leave the viewer involuntarily flinching in their step. Nothing here is superficial, so the surface is also emphasized. There are many content levels touching in the pictures, some contradict yet all elements together give rise to a complex, dense and greater design.
Nguyen Xuan Huy’s paintings often speak of the old masters, which are suggested through their similar colour palates of the 19th century, yet also of the Dutch and French masters. Nguyen Xuan Huy, so it would seem, is drawn to these paintings, in which he then transforms into his own ideas. The painting can be light, virtually like a sketch, where as on the other hand the perfectly modelled physicality is peeled out of the dark in the highlight. Full of elements beyond reality, the artist works specifically with surreal obscurity to arrive at a greater density of content and at the same time to emphasize the primacy of painting over the content. This contradiction shows a picturesque attitude that takes into account many approaches, and in many ways is sometimes prone to quasi-sculptural compositions, such as "Waiting Until The Meat Boils III" (2014-2015), a work in which combines plump, pillow-like Femininity, robes, a stool, a clock tower (homage to Dali?) and balls, suggesting a previous plastic assemblage. Especially in this image is art history versed, reminiscing of perhaps to Vermeer, with the spatial situation with window on the left, portrait in the background (here: a self-portrait of the artist?), and the question of what is happening in the foreground.
The colour economics in Nguyen Xuan Huys paintings are obvious. In his newer images, usually gray, black, white, red and countless gradients dominate. Here, the local colour plays an important role, creating the spatial bond between the many individual parts, because at the end of this painting is one thing in particular: Painting.
Nguyen Xuan Huys painting’s have their own place of existence, created somewhere in the nowhere between Vietnam and Western culture, the place in which the artist lives. He has thereby abandoned neither his identity nor denied his roots. He takes rather a position that includes both living places in the world of both East and West, which is observed, commented, transformed. Transformed into a wonderful painting that exists in it’s own way.
My experiments are exploring the boundary between reality and fiction. I'm trying to learn limits, whether that’s setting it, overstepping it or blurring it. For example the realism of a photograph takes on the credibility of the photo and negates it at the same time by presenting it as a painting. Through genre fusion, the picture illustrated gains a different meaning, a different quality of information.
I go beyond the documented so it no longer emerges under the characteristic of a historical event, but rather through a general view of the world. I achieve this by questioning it in a fictional context. The interplay of truth and artifice, or the principle of both - and also problematizes the tension between reality and what goes beyond it.
I let my intentions be deliberately vague. From the perspective of the Vietnamese post-war generation, I try to browse through the backgrounds of our existence. The editing of history has given to itself more and more questions that remain open and unanswered, this then provokes more questions to follow.
Agent Orange has been just one of the many tools used in the battle of the systems. Friend and foe alike were affected. A genetic laboratory produced the “defoliants” locally. This warfare agent was a tool of the future, attacking evolution as an act of war; this made it independent of the place of military action. The integrity, especially of later generations, is a godsend to the axis, however, the questions of what-if and what-will-be in the whirlwind of history and the future are constantly new, personal and physical. The presentation of the Agent Orange victims is not an attempt of accusation or about morality, subsequently it is to highlight the too easily led to a reckless self-righteousness. The poisonous substance and its consequences are only a starting point in search of a signature existential option and a trace of the fault, the impotence, the helplessness of the people who join the mechanisms of heteronomy therein.
Since 2007, I no longer concern myself with documentary photographs, but rather I try to create a fictitious "ideal world" to "create", in which all people are deformed, yet cheerful, in which they believe they are following a “hot” ideology. My work seems to be politicized, but I am interested only in the indoctrination of ideologies and the consequences that may result from my perspective of quasi "mental abnormality" of the people. The indoctrination seems to me a mechanism that treats the human mind as putty that one can deform arbitrarily, arbitrarily and often ruthlessly by force for certain purposes.
In my paintings, the parody of political value systems plays an important role. I use it as a visual language that relates to the combatted in Vietnam, as in other post-communist territories, where Monumental Monuments and propaganda images of socialist realism is relevant. The alleged seriousness of this kind, is in my paintings replaced by profane soft pornographic appearances. The erotic serves as an advertising instrument of an ideology, as how to bare skin in the (capitalist world) is used in advertising as a lure for any product that actually has nothing to do with bare skin. Their beautiful appearance is deceptive. The bodies of women ("the Beautiful") are deformed, eroticism turns into disgust, and the desire remains stuck in my throat. It's like a beautiful dream that turns into a nightmare, it is realized as a nightmare.
My work often refers more or less to works of art in art history. Some are directly related to historical works: The "Garden of Earthly Delights" refers to Hieronymus Bosch's triptych of the same name. The Company Chicken Wing counteracted Goya's "El sueño de la Razón Produce Monstruos" with "Caprichos". Some are only in indirect connection with other works. In "My Lai" I think of Manet's "Breakfast Outdoors". "Generation X" is related to "Adam and Eve" by Albrecht Dürer, and the portraits of Agent Orange is related to the Hollywood star portraits of Andy Warhol, and "Cost What it Wants" and "Procession" with "Liberty Leading the People" by Delacroix ... and so on and so forth.
Anyway, I propose different versions to create my version of the art - it can be transformed by my story, updated through my experience, just like the driving force behind those cavemen who painted their presence on the cave wall.
Nguyen Xuan Huy
Mutilated bodies, chicken wings and glaring orgies: This artist ‘s work’s attract and repel at the same time. When Jörk Rothamel saw the pictures of Nguyen Xuan Huy for the first time he was electrified. "What a force." But when thinking about the transportation from Hanoi to Erfurt, the gallery owner thought "What a hassle." Then the surprise came when he read the e-mail: He comes from Nordhausen. His mother came in the eighties as a guest worker. The son followed her 19 years ago and studied art at Burg Giebichenstein. His father had taught him to paint in a realistic style.
In this respect, Nguyen Xuan Huy developed a technical mastery realistic style in his painting, which Jörk Rothamel says is now rare to find. Rothamel opened his exhibition this morning in his gallery in Erfurt, the exhibition "Talking about the Blue Sky" exhibits the works of Nguyen Xuan Huy, showing his work from 2013 and 2014.
The art is characteristically large-scale oil paintings that attract and at the same time repel. Beautiful nude women appear with deformed bodies and hybrid creatures, where trauma is visible. These creatures speak of the trauma from Nguyen’s native country: the ravages of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
From the moor, knotted legs grow
During the Vietnam War, American aircrafts sprayed the poison ‘Agent Orange’ through the jungle and the Vietcong to defoliate the trees, hoping that they would reveal the fighters taking their hideout there. Instead the poison poisoned the Vietnamese people, destroying their genetic makeup. The exposed sufferers’ children were born with severe deformations.
The fear also dominates the life of Nguyen Xuan Huy. It wasn’t until his son was born healthy a few years ago, did these genetic deformations haunted his mind, as his baby could of been one of those disabled children. Nguyen’s life is still consumed of the images he saw when he last travelled to Vietnam ten years ago, scenes of poisoned havoc with women living with two heads, children without legs, and people without eyes.
These scenes dominated the panoramas that bordered the Galerie Rothamel 2011 exhibition. Nude women’s body painted in bright colours on white backgrounds, the quoted Socialist propaganda painting, Vietnamese folk motifs and western advertising images; reminiscent of the twisted faces of Francis Bacon, designs from Hieronymus Bosch and Botticelli.
Nguyen’s recent works are now different. Similarly bleak, as frightening, but there's no more white space, instead it has been replaced with a background, which feels downright German. A dark forest scene in which a naked woman is sitting, straddling a tree trunk, her face bursting with pigeon carcasses. A Moor, where legs are sprawling - everything is glaringly put on display, shrouded in a cold light and flailing buckets.
Nguyen Xuan Huy told the gallery that when the Germany autumn comes, a feeling of melancholy always seizes him. The artist has now mentally arrived in Europe, Rothamel appreciates the wisdom and attention for things that go wrong in our society, for example the "Shifting Baselines", changes that are taking place so slowly that they are no longer perceivable.
For example, the scene of separation in the turbo-capitalism is expressed in triptych "Waiting Until The Meat Boils" where a man is sitting - connecting to another novelty, a man staring at a piece of raw meat.
While at one moment he could be painting a scene of transience, there could also be a lonely tap on his smartphone, besides him an orgy of intertwined naked women's bodies rage. In another picture he paints two girls that have grown together through their connecting tongue. The propaganda sky is only one skein, but free talk is still not theirs.
Even the smaller detailed parts of the scene are no less expressive. In a portrait of a girl, Nguyen portrays her in a denim skirt, her breasts are naked and on her back she carries wings. From a first glance looks like an angel - but on further inspection her angel wings are chicken wings, sad and featherless. Thus she cannot fly.