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Overseas Vietnamese artist running ‘negative painting’ exhibit in homeland

Wednesday, October 14, 2015, 17:32 GMT+7

A seasoned overseas Vietnamese artist is running his first-ever exhibition in his home country, displaying his own notable works in a so-called “negative painting” technique that he pioneered and has practiced for over five decades.

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After over 40 years working and lecturing in the U.S. and some other countries, Nguyen Cao Nguyen kicked off his exhibition of abstract water colors in Ho Chi Minh City on October 9.

The admission-free display is running at Si Space, located at 7A Ngo Van Nam, District 1, until October 30.

On display are 18 of Nguyen’s water colors in abstractionism which adopt his unique “negative painting” technique.


An artwork by overseas Vietnamese artist Nguyen Cao Nguyen. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The artist explained in a recent interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that the technique involves dousing nearly-finished works in water, which rinses off dark, redundant patches of color, or unwanted strokes.

“Dissolved in water, the paintings put on new hues which I myself did not envision in the first place. That allows me bolder brush strokes and easier correction,” Nguyen said.

Immersing paintings in water also helps minimize paper shrinkage and thus smoothens and perfects the artworks, the artist noted.

He added that since he debuted his “negative painting” technique over half a century ago, many of his foreign friends and colleagues have learned about the inventive procedure.

“However, I have heard of no one who has adopted the method so far. Even my students in the U.S. all thought I must have been joking when I told them to douse their cherished works in water,” Nguyen said smilingly.


An artwork by overseas Vietnamese artist Nguyen Cao Nguyen. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The “negative painting” technique, inspired by the polishing procedures in creating lacquer paintings, one of Vietnam’s time-honored art genres, should be applied slowly and properly, otherwise the nearly-finished water colors will be marred or even ruined altogether, he stressed.

Nguyen was revered for his lacquers, silk works and woodblocks featuring traditional topics until he partook in an exhibition titled “Vietnam Arts in the U.S.,” which was organized in San Francisco and Maine in 1968.

The exhibit enlightened him on the then-thriving abstractionism and inspired him to international success in the genre so far.

In 1963, he gathered like-minded artists in the Vietnam Young Artist Association, which was created to help artists hone their skills and promote Vietnamese works in abstractionism to the world.


An artwork by overseas Vietnamese artist Nguyen Cao Nguyen. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The veteran artist has showcased his works at many major international exhibitions, and led the jury of a nationwide watercolor competition in the U.S. in 1988.

He has helped train generations of art students in the U.S. and been running his own gallery in Washington, D.C., since 1995.

Nguyen divulged that after the ongoing exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City, he plans to launch another featuring abstract works created on the computer.

“I also plan to set up a gallery in Vietnam in an effort to better support young artists and offer local art enthusiasts easier access to Vietnamese artworks by cutting their prices,” he added.

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