After a long hiatus from the downtown art scene, Thuong Nguyen has returned to share a new body of his meditative, abstract work with Nature in Notion at Chartreuse Gallery on Grand Avenue. Like the work he created years ago while working in Citywide Studios on 15th Avenue, his focus continues to be on basic form and studies of shape. You could say all painters are doing this but Nguyen’s work makes a much more deliberate attempt at avoiding depiction or scenes by making gestures and marks that are impressions from his surroundings.
Several older pieces like Japan are mixed into the exhibit and provide a good reference point for where his work originated. Once like an aerial landscape view with blackened, stained portions, Nguyen’s new work involves much less restraint and compartmentalization. Lines that once existed as containment zones instead dribble, drip and slash across the visual field. Works like Spring and Change include black, chaotic scribbles balanced by an internal edge. The two-thirds rule applies in nearly all of his work, giving his work an overall pleasing and unchallenged view. Nguyen knows what looks good and uses this to his advantage to appeal to people while also managing to play out his ideas and experimentation.
The small paintings in the show are, in many ways, more successful than the large-scale works they were studies for. One can see the direct comparison between a study and its final work like in Study 5 and Black Memo and Study 12 and Haiku. The use of pencil instead of paint in the studies creates a better sense of improvisation and impulsiveness with the scribbled line than its larger counterparts. It looks like something new is being uncovered in the small works that is being stifled in the larger pieces. It could be that, while working small, Nguyen is taken out of his comfort zone and forced to scale his concepts with different, smaller media. There is a difference between instinctively drawing a scribble and trying to copy a scribble that’s been drawn.
The works in Nature in Notion give an insight into the persistence of painting over time. Sometimes, styles shift, making big leaps in subject matter, concept and image, and other times, styles evolve gradually with the pace of the artist. These works share Nguyen’s steady, private and consistent efforts towards his passion of painting, something that has been, and will continue to be, his companion for quite some time.