Nguyen Cam_Hoang Ha_Fleuve Jaune Yellow River_2015_Mixed media on canvas_162 x 194 cm

Fragments Of Life

Sunday October 20th, 2019

The story of any artist who has enjoyed a long and celebrated career is likely to involve a series of obstacles overcome and a continuous evolution of practice that are indicative of both prodigious talent and great determination. Overlaid on this normal path of artistic struggle, Nguyen Cam has had to deal with challenges and vicissitudes that are unique to an artist of his generation born into a country in the throes of a multi-generational conflict. First emigrating with his family from Vietnam to Laos in the late 1950’s, Nguyen Cam would spend the next decade in Vientiane where the bombs of the war raging in his country of birth would also fall. Due to the illness of his father, the still as yet untrained teenager would be forced to use his nascent painting skills to provide for the whole family by painting portraits and even opening the city’s only art gallery.

At the age of twenty-five, Nguyen Cam would make a second migration that would take him from Southeast Asia to Paris. He says, “If I continued to merely look at photos of paintings by other artists, I would be overly influenced by them. If I came to the place where these great artists lived and could experience the same environment that these French artists, I would be able to find my own path.” Following the time honored tradition of aspiring artists notably exemplified by George Orwell, Nguyen Cam washed dishes in a Parisian restaurant as he worked to gain entry into the Fine Arts School of Paris. He later paid for his studies by producing hand drawn advertisements at night in a cold and gloomy underground studio. Nguyen Cam recounts these early years of personal struggle with a mischievous grin and describes his time as a starving student as the best of his life.

After a distinguished career of more than two decades exhibiting his work in Paris and other cities in southern France and in Spain, Nguyen Cam would make his first return to the country of his birth in 1994 at the invitation of the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Association. Although deciding against relocating back to Vietnam, Nguyen Cam would become a regular visitor to the country and would accept an invitation to teach at the Hanoi Fine Arts University. In this role, he was able to help many notable Vietnamese artists to gain a better understanding of the modern currents of the art world at a time when the country was just re-opening to the world and the internet was still in its infancy. It was in these early years that Nguyen Cam would also meet and begin a more than two decades long collaboration with Hanoi’s groundbreaking gallerist Suzanne Lecht of Art Vietnam Gallery. The two would go on to mount numerous exhibitions of the artist’s work both in Vietnam and in the United States.

With his latest collection of works, Nguyen Cam evinces the hand of a mature artist who is able to eschew unnecessary flourishes and distill his work to an appealing simplicity and elegance. He communicates to us through confident and bold brushstrokes that arrestingly fill the empty spaces of his works. They speak to something elemental and even other-worldly. A language all his own. Many of the works are calligraphic and evocative of a time when man was first using images to convey meanings which process would in time lead to our modern written languages. Nguyen Cam says, “My calligraphy returns to the origin of calligraphy and the origin of calligraphy is nature. In written Mandarin, the sun is represented by a circle with a horizon line drawn through the middle. Calligraphy has since evolved but with my work I return to a time before that evolution.”