Sacred Landscapes: The art of Hung Viet Nguyen


Tish Laemmle’s Art in the Arthouse series places beautifully curated art exhibits in Laemmle theater space. Running through December at the Laemmle Monica Film Center, her current exhibition, Sacred Landscapes is a visionary gallery show that’s simply not to be missed.


Artist Hung Viet Nguyen‘s mosaic-like paintings play like a precise and beautiful series of dreams. Each work has a hush about them, a reverence for nature and beauty that makes the show’s title all the more true – this is a spiritual, sacred experience. The works shine like jewels as they reach into the depth of Nguyen’s experience, which becomes a piece of each viewer’s experience, too.


Born in Vietnam, the Los Angeles-based Nguyen once studied biology in Saigon, but moving to the U.S., he worked as an illustrator, graphic artist, and designer before following his muse full time into a world that’s magical, mythical, and mysterious. His finely textured oil works evoke Japanese woodblock prints, Chinese scroll paintings, and perhaps a touch of Van Gogh fused with David Hockney.


But the overall these masterful works are uniquely Nguyen’s, as complex as they are beautiful, as lyrical and light-seeped as they are deep.


“Mostly nature draws me to create art. I don’t do plein-air painting anymore, what I do is I go hiking to an area and I try to feel what I see. Then, I try to bring my feeling from hiking into the picture. I sometimes take a photograph and bring that home, but mostly I paint from my memory or my imagination,” Nguyen relates.


As to his process, he notes “I do planning for a little control, but during the process of painting things happen that I can’t control. There is a certain edge of mystery to it even for myself. There is something out of control in my art; my art work has its own life.”

That it does, a life that soars with color, a life that leads viewers into a world that’s rich and nuanced, moving, elegaic. You may have been there before, you may have been there in another life, or within a dream. The paintings carry you along on a journey to a place that is beyond the ordinary, beyond the defined.


“My skies used to be simpler, with more pastel colors, but the color has become darker recently. I was thinking perhaps I’ve spent more time and put more layers into the color and my technique got better,” he says modestly. “The way that I work is almost like sculpting the piece. I have to wait for each of many layers to dry. ”


As to his subjects, Nguyen explains “I travel a lot. I don’t pick a particular place in my paintings, I let it all come back to me, I combine them, the places that I’ve been.”


Whether we are looking at beautifully created images of an “Ancient Pine” – based on trees Nguyen has come to know and love in the Bristle Cone Pine Forest – or spectacular seascapes, landscapes, or his wonderful images of birth, death, and the life cycle in his “Cruelly-Go-Round” series, the overriding sensation of seeing Nguyen’s work is of discovering treasures. Sacred treasures. It is, without being overly religious, a blessing to see these works, a benediction riven with the vital sweep of a karmic life force.


Sacred Landscapes is an exhibition to savor and enjoy, and it is appropriate to see the works in the gallery space at the Monica Film Center. Each piece is its own, highly cinematic world. And if, while at the gallery space, you’re moved to take in a film, you’ll find another glimpse at Nguyen’s work, in the form of a short trailer the artist created. The trailer plays before each feature selection.


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The Laemmle Monica Film Center is located at 1332 2nd St, Santa Monica,  and there’s free city parking directly across the street.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: Genie Davis

A New Kind of “Drive-In” Movie: Site-Specific Billboard Installations on Sunset Strip



Driving down the Sunset Strip, the billboards have always been eye-catching, featuring product advertisements, premiering Hollywood films, even the iconic self-homage of Angelyne. But the City of West Hollywood has taken Sunset Strip billboards to a new level with their site-specific digital billboard project, part of a continuing partnership with curator Jessica Rich and their “Art on the Outside” program.

Through the program, which provides an ongoing initiative to present original and experimental visual content, viewers will find two fiveting films, Alison O’Daniel’s “The Tuba Thieves (Variations)” and Basma Alsharif’s take on “Democracy.”

These outdoor showings are made possible through an agreement between the City of West Hollywood and the owners of the screens. Featuring 13 minutes of artistic content each hour, both sites are curated with Jessica Rich through the IF Innovation Foundation Los Angeles, a new non-profit arts organization helmed by IFLA founder Lauri Firstenberg.

Both films screen through December 31st, and IFLA plans to continue an artistic vision for both locations after that date, seeking to place “remarkable time-based work in the cityscape…to support experimental interventions that respond to the complexities of urban space.” IFLA founder Lauri Firstenberg strongly believes that artists have the ability to occupy, contest, and play with the boundaries and use of public space, challenging preconceived ideas about what art is and where it belongs. “By placing provocative work along the most traveled thoroughfare in Los Angeles, there is a far-reaching impact on viewers across the city.”


Alison O’Daniel’s “The Tuba Thieves (Variations) is viewed on tandem, 2-channel digital billboard screens at 9039 Sunset Blvd., on the facade of the 1OAK nightclub. O’Daniel is a visual artist and filmmaker who works across sound, narrative, sculpture, installation, and performance platforms.

Here, her work is made up of a series of eight separate 64-second videos commissioned by IFLA for this Art on the Outside project. The films play on both screens simultaneously, in tandem, and in various combinations.

The works are excerpts from O’Daniel’s riveting feature film project, “The Tuba Thieves,” which was created following a series of tuba robberies in Los Angeles schools. The film connects the story of a deaf drummer with that of the students, band directors, and larger school communities who are forced to accept missing sound following the tuba thefts. O’Daniel is herself hearing-impaired, and she believes that because of this, her own mind fills in hearing gaps when they occur. While she has experienced frustrations, she’s also discovered a supreme sensitivity to sound. Her original film plays on a conceptual audio score, and converges her private experiences and performed sequences into one narrative.


The film (still, above) is composed of portraits of music and silence in Los Angeles and beyond, interrupted by fictionalized re-enactments of two historic concerts: the 1952 premiere of John Cage’s 4’33” at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, N.Y., and a 1979 punk concert hosted by Bruce Conner at The Deaf Club in San Francisco. O’Daniel commissioned musical scores by three composers and used these to create a narrative structure through the process of deep listening.

The filmmaker is excited about the City of West Hollywood billboard project, this new reconceptualization of her story, and its piecemeal presentation. “I love the way this non-linear experience of a linear narrative explodes normal viewing patterns,” she says.


The Los Angeles-based artist, above, is a part of the performance series “In Real Life” at the Hammer Museum, and recently presented her “Centennial Marching Band Forwards, Backwards, Pause, Silent,” a collaborative performance with the Compton-based Centennial High School Marching Band at Art Los Angeles Contemporary.


A few blocks away at 8410 Sunset Blvd., viewers can take in “Democracy” by Basma Alsharif on the 2-channel digital billboard screens. This work is made up of two HD digital motion videos that are each three minutes long.

Alsharif’s work centers on the human condition, shifting geopolitical landscapes, natural environments, and history – “Democracy” is no exception, according to curator Rich. “Like landing on the moon – democracy – a word coined in 5th century Athens – is an icon,” she states. “This piece is a gesture towards undoing icons linked to ideas we have held onto for too long… at a moment when sea changes are impending. In this fraught political climate, universal truths transcend geography and ideology.” Alsharif’s work raises age-old questions about freedom and its modern manifestation, according to Rich. “Her fearless world view is unwavering.”


Like O’Daniel, Alsharif,  above, is based in Los Angeles. As a visual artist she uses moving and still images, sound, and language to explore the anonymous individual in relation to political history and collective memory. Born in Kuwait, she recently received a jury prize at the Sharjah Biennial 9; the Marion MacMahon award at Images; and was awarded the Marcelino Botin Visual Arts grant. Her work transcends the boundaries between political and experimental filmmaking, delving deeply into the rifts between perception, reality, and representation in her work.


These stunningly affecting installations – and their dynamic outdoor presentation – creates an entirely new type of “drive-in movie.” The films are a part of a curatorial collaboration which began in 2015 for the City of West Hollywood. Since that time, public art projects created with Jessica Rich and IFLA have included works by artists Jillian Mayer, John Knuth and Andy Featherston, Cole Sternberg, Amy Jorgenson, Adam Mars, Martine Syms, and Jen Liu. Upcoming installations for 2017 will be announced soon.

For more information, visit

  • Genie Davis; Photos: City of West Hollywood

Feeling Blue? The Loft at Liz’s Has What You Need


Above: artist Gary Brewer

Feeling blue? Then it’s time to immerse yourself in the wondrous rush of the color, emotion, and vibrations of blue at Loft at Liz’s. The show features the work of artists

Brad Howe
Angel Chen
Gary Brewer
Barbara Kolo
Shana Mabari
Miguel Osuna
Stephen Rowe
June Edmonds
Campbell Laird
Moses Hacmon
Bertil Petersson
Michael Hayden
Crystal Fischett

Blue is a seminal show, a rush of sky, sea, flowers, planets, windows to the spirit. The only question is, how blue are you?


Above, Gary Brewer’s work evokes both water and light,  a moment captured in freeze frame, motion and emotion, both transcendent and incandescent. It’s a love affair with the color of spirit. His “Alchemical Language,” above, is alive and transformational.


Above and below, the work of June Edmonds.  “Aquatic Pastoral” and “Royal Roost.” Like a feathered kaleidoscope, Edmonds spins viewers into her richly textured work.



Above, Miguel Osuna dazzles with a vortex of blue light, a planet spinning outward. The oil on canvas work is both fragile and strong, something gestating.


Above, Angel Chen gives us stoneware, earthenware, sculptures that capture a wave, a seahorse, a goddess, a portal, blue coral – fossils that represent the color blue, glorious stepping stones into another dimension.


Above, Brad Howe’s abstract blue sculpture is built of stainless steel, aluminum, and urethane, 23 separate pieces linked like mysterious alien musical notes.


Above and below, Barbara Kolo creates Sky, Harbor, Tide in ink and colored pencil so rich that they appear, at first glance to be paint. These shades are like a Rorschach test for color. Each piece has an inward glow.


Below, Gary Brewer with wife and artist Aline Mare (Mare has her own exhibition across the street from Loft at Liz’s at the Jill Joy Gallery).


Below, power art couple Osceola Refetoff and Shana Nys Dambrot.

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Above, Michael Hayden uses encaustic mixed media to create, in his words, “rough, smooth, bright, dark –  in my mind the kind of way that it works for me.” Using resin and beeswax melted together contrasts the burlap and thin layers of wax over burlap.  “I’m so attracted to the ever-changing, hypnotic horizon line. You never get tired of getting lost on the horizon line. I just moved from West Hollywood to the Marina just to experience it.” Viewers can experience it in his art, which also employs silver leaf for high gloss and shine.

Not pictured but equally powerful are the works of Campbell Laird – his resin film print Blue Beneath the Pier, Venice CA is a stunner; Stephen Rowe, who uses dots, lines, and a pointillist technique to create acrylic on canvas works of complex abstraction; Crystal Fischeti’s geometric blue acrylic and oil pieces which have the quality of stained glass; Moses Hacmon’s archival pigment on aluminum panels which capture the wonders of the deep; Bertil Persson’s painted steel and lucite cubes; and Lauren Kasmer’s mesmerizing silk and chiffon dresses and jackets as wearable blue art.

Go for the color of creation…and check out Kasmer’s exciting December 8th presentation of Not So Blue, an evening  of small bites, R&B, hip-hop, video, and wearable art. The event is free but be generous – donations benefit two local charitable organizations dedicated to feeding and sheltering women and children in need.

Loft at Liz’s is located at 453 S. La Brea Ave., and the show itself runs through January 9th.

  • Genie Davis; photos: Jack Burke

Waiting for Grace: Looking for Love at the Odyssey



Above, actress and writer Sharon Sharth.

In the late ’70s, Joni Mitchell sang in the transcendent Hejira, “I know, no one’s going to show me everything/We all come and go unknown/Each so deep and superficial/ Between the forceps and the stone.”


In some inchoate but poignant way Sharon Sharth’s semi-autobiographical play, Waiting for Grace, reminded me of that song. While the play is often brilliantly funny, it’s also moving; the search for love and marriage by a no-longer-young, yet still attractive actress is both personal and universal, filled with longing and delight, despair and hope.

Directed by Lee Costello, the play is essentially a one-woman show, albeit ably supported by a brilliant cast playing various roles as Grace’s boyfriends, therapists, and parents.


The plot is simple: Grace (Sharth herself, a burning spark both searing and sexy) long focused on her career, now wants marriage and motherhood, but cannot find a man able to provide her with a ring or a child. Some are too clingy, some angry, some distant – all are played by the chameleon Jeff LeBeau. Therapist, parents, and relationship counselor all come into play trying to advise her, until at last she meets “the one,” David (Todd Babcock).


Her dream man isn’t perfect either, and in fact, until the last moments, the audience is never sure that even David will prove worthy of Grace’s somewhat neurotic love.

The play is warm and affectionate overall, with acerbic and bittersweet asides. The weakest link is when Grace tries to have a child with David, but that’s a quibble. The script is sharp, witty, powerful, and brave.


Sharth takes on the pain of looking for love (in all the wrong places and with all the wrong guys), aging, feminism, the meaning of marriage — and comes up with the only conclusion that can possible be reached: waiting for grace isn’t easy, but in the end, she/it can be found.

Quoting Mitchell again, “I’m traveling in some vehicle/I’m sitting in some cafe/ A defector from the petty wars/Until love sucks me back that way.”

Running through December 11th, don’t miss the chance to find Grace.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: courtesy of the Odyssey