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

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