Contemporary Art with Vietnamese Tradition
By Richard Malinsky, Arts Editor
Nguyen Thi Mai is a self-taught artist from Vietnam with a deep appreciation for tradition and beauty. Her art is inspired by visions and music, in her search for balance and harmony on the canvas as well as in her personal life. She believes, “Through balance we have harmony. Through harmony we have peace. Through peace we have happiness.”
Her site documents living and working in the fast-paced, stressful lifestyle of Singapore for five years prior to the beginning of her artistic journey. This experience certainly played an influential role in her art later on.
Returning home, she began with some art lessons from a leading traditional Vietnamese teacher. While her years in Singapore provided a more cosmopolitan perspective, it became apparent that her painting had evolved into the more introspective and reflective.
Her early work on paper was inspired by the pure and simple lifestyle of various tribes around the world, both ancient and contemporary, as illustrated in “Picking Cotton.” Also included in this series are stylized animals that suggest a desire to co-exist peacefully. The high-intensity background color lends a contemporary graphic feel to this series.
A delicate series of soft pastel paintings on silk features a technique that is not common in Western countries. However, there is some experimentation with a more developed Western style of composition. Also, this series includes “Birdman,” one of her earliest images that combines an animal head on a human body:
Nugyen Thi Mai’s deft melding of her personal style and contemporary aesthetic with the more traditional technique of Vietnamese lacquer painting is what first garnered serious attention. She classifies herself as “a contemporary artist who happens to be Vietnamese, rather than a Vietnamese contemporary artist.”
The multi-paneled lacquer work “Mirror,” featured in the 7th Beijing International Art Biennale – 2017, demonstrates masterful compositional control, refined color sensibility, and evolved style that now has the status of a personal signature.
She stopped working in lacquer in 2016 and switched to the more contemporary medium of acrylic on canvas. This mature visual voice is clearly evident in this new work, while retaining original influences and tradition, but now the characteristic flatness of painting lacquer on wood has been translated into the two-dimensional character of twentieth-century cubist space. The painting “Blue Ladies,” from the Metamorphosis Series, clearly shows an awareness of Picasso and Matisse.
In 2017 the Vietnam Institute of Culture and Arts Studies recognized Nguyen Thi Mai with a solo exhibition of fifty paintings from the Metamorphosis Series.
Fundamental elements in Nguyen Thi Mai’s painting are ideas and symbols of Vietnamese traditional culture, such as ancient statues, sacred animals, and figures of women as presented in traditional folk painting. She is able to retain that ancient tradition and beauty as she now transforms her images with a unique contemporary visual language.
The site is easy to navigate and rich with images from various series, exhibitions, articles, and collections, catalogued and cross-referenced by medium, annals, and glossary.
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