Wandering the Suburbs

A solo exhibition by Nguyễn Ngọc Liêm

Opening: 14.09.2019 @5:00pm
Duration: 14.09.2019 — 19.10.2019
Location: Sàn Art 
Millennium Masteri
Unit B6.17 & B6.16
132 Bến Vân Đồn, Ward 6, District 4,
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
(enter from Nguyen Huu Hao side)

Nguyễn Ngọc Liêm’s studio is based in Biên Hoà, a small industrial city where he grew up, and whose peri-urbanized landscape has been gradually absorbed into his oeuvre, his hand, his vision. Here, the bucolic and the urban interweave: repetitions of narrow tube houses and giant grim factories co-reside with resin forests, paperbark trees and the Đồng Nai river’s tidal rhythms. Local movements are progressively reshaped by the flow of goods along the beltways that rim this city, by the logic of efficiency and discipline, but it is not the monotonous infrastructure of industry or a clear text of the planned and readable city that slips into the paintings of Nguyễn Ngọc Liêm, but purified scenes, memory fragments of forest, sky, neighborhoods and introverted chambers tinged with melancholy. Swelling the lives of prosaic objects onto large canvases and shrinking lush foliage and marshes to an intimate size, the artist employs judicious ways of seeing, cropping, scaling and playing with perspectives, with the near and the far, to jolt our sensitivity awake, reorienting our gaze toward ordinary, un-monumental presences. 

The body of works echoes the graphic layers, clean contours and flat colors found in Alex Katz’s idyllic landscapes, David Hockney’s suburban Californian scenes, the interiors and still lives of Jonas Wood, or the patternlike landscape-poems in Kamisaka Sekka’s early-20th-century woodblock prints. Liêm is looking closely at and learning from a style that dwells halfway between mechanical Pop (re)production and the tradition of realist painting, with a focus on articulating the finesse of geometry, light, frozen time. The works attempt to unfold the minuscule, nondescript, even impoverished, details of the everyday—adjacent terraced houses, scratches on the walls, window shutters, a ferry in silty waters waiting for a storm. Whether painting gouache on modest-sized paper or acrylic on canvas, the artist’s ambition remains consistent—to make afresh his gritty surroundings, to pursue and archive the sensuousness of quotidian life, whose empty space is never empty, but saturated with qualities, from painterly aspects—shapes, shades, textures—to perfumes, fragmented tales, privacies accrued together.

And yet, these succinct, mostly radiant sights of suburbia often bear a subterranean current of solitude. Desolation gently quivers within the occasional onrush of cumulous clouds, the dusky nightfall, the absence of humans, the sideward views of corrugated tin roofs and vertical walls, whose textures feel weathered, forlorn. It is this ambiguous horizon between optimism and ennui that imbues these pictures with an odd charm. The depicted objects and places emanate a familiar climate of provinciality, and at the same time, look off-kilter and strange, estranged from nameable addresses: they autonomously occupy a personal zone of buoyant dread. The artist-vagrant goes on meandering around town on his motorcycle, entranced by circuitous wanderings and potentialities to pause, to observe, to trace, to distill the fleeting eternity of raptures, to impossibly arrive at, or ever hover near, the melancholic coordinates of the mesmeric mundane.

 

beltways that rim this city: Rich, Adrienne. 2012. ‘Reforming the Crystal.’ Collected Poems: 1950-2012. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

clear text of the planned and readable city: de Certeau, Michel. 1984. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 93.

saturated with qualities: Foucault, Michel. 2005. ‘Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias’, in Neil Leach (Ed.) Rethinking Architecture. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis, p. 349.

Exhibition text by Nguyễn-Hoàng Quyên.

Learn more about the artist: http://san-art.org/producer/nguyen-ngoc-liem/