Fertility, abundance, mysticism and the fantastical are some of the words that come to mind viewing the “Sacred Landscape” paintings by Los Angeles-based painter Hung Viet Nguyen. At first glance, the works exude a folk-style naïveté, but it doesn’t take long for the layered influences to reveal themselves. The source of the imagery finds inspiration in the California landscape filtered through a lens of Western modernism and Eastern traditions of landscape painting — 19th century Vienna modernist Gustav Klimt meet 11th-century Song Dynasty master Guo Xi.
The influence of Chinese landscape painting is not only manifest in the style of the work, but the approach taken by Nguyen. Unlike the Western penchant for a single vantage point, the Eastern process is derived from combining multiple views taken in while traveling through it. The Vietnam-born artist’s paintings range in size from the intimately scaled “Mindscapes,” 8-by-8 and 9-by-12 inches, to the monumental vistas up to 6 feet tall. Like their Song Dynasty precedents, paintings such as “Sacred Cove Night” offer numerous rewards for careful viewing that lead us straight back to the influence of the West. These effects include scumbled colors, simplified shapes, textured impasto paint and geometric patterns filling in the surreal biomorphic natural forms. In the side room, a blushingly evocative series of small-scale works capture the notion of the fertile landscape in no uncertain terms. Thinly veiled erotic seascapes and mountain peaks offer another imaginative revisioning of the California coast.
Originally published in ArtScene (Jan 2015).