True Blue Heritage

May 25, 2022 | Ryan Mario

Vietnamese art has had its roots steeped in its own traditional styles which mirror the country’s rich culture and history. Its art is a dynamic combination of methods, concepts, and materials challenging traditional boundaries derived from the delicate Ming Dynasty artistic style, the Impressionism movement, French Beaux Arts portraitures, all down to the Eastern European realist schools. The result? a dazzling fusion of East and West that is constantly evolving and ever relevant in modern contexts, only to be magnified by the unique acquisition under ArtBlue Studio.

ArtBlue Studio was founded by Phuong Nguyen and her husband, Jacques, when they came to Singapore in 2006, and now stands as one of the leading purveyors of Vietnamese contemporary art in Singapore. The gallery’s extensive collection was seeded from the pair’s personal one which they initially promoted to local galleries. As Phuong’s expertise in the field expanded through her work as the Singapore Art Museum’s curator for Vietnamese art, opening her own gallery that is now to be a full-time art consultant became an avenue that she took up with open arms. Today, ArtBlue Studio is situated at 23 Yong Siak Street, taking up a unit along the gallery belt of the iconic Tiong Bahru estate.

“We have to fall in love with the art in order to represent the artist; that is our only criteria,” explains Phuong, and such is rightfully so for the couple who has the keenest of eyes considering the stellar ensemble of artists represented by the gallery.

Oil painter Bui Van Hoan, potentially the headliner of the show, breathes new life into the recurrent theme of landscape paintings. Surreally subtle, Hoan’s masterful manipulation of light allows him to conjure broadened perspective of dreamscapes that reveal yet conceal the subjects and their surroundings between the layers. Such delicate and impressionistic treatment of the pieces result in the evocation of meditative silence and tranquillity in the viewers, thus earning his art a place in the permanent collection of the Vietnam Fine Art Museum.

And then there is Ngo Van Sac whose art is one that is earthly as it is dynamic. His technique puts a spin on the literal notion of “playing with fire”, allowing for an unconventional combustion method of painting involving burning an image onto a slab of pinewood. By setting his sights beyond the destructive nature of fire, Sac creates a juxtaposition of light from the flame against the dark of the scorch marks, and it is only enhanced by his imageries of emotive and poignant portraits done with the finishing touches akin to a multiple-exposure photograph.

The gallery’s spotlight vacillates between the veterans and the emerging artists, and within the latter is one Nguyen Tuan Dung whose realism paintings are laced with the intimacy and familiarity of everyday life in Vietnam. The simplest of objects that receive no second glance by the most regular of people are repositioned with striking details on newspaper backgrounds, ultimately superimposing the personal lives of the people on the ever-changing events of the world.

The synthesis of European post-impressionist trends with classical Asian style and subjects is a testament that artistic traditions in Vietnam is not static. Says Jacques, “Collectors are interested in diversifying their collection, and are opening up to markets other than China, Indonesia, and India.” Over the course of centuries, Vietnamese artists have managed to carve a niche for themselves to secure an identity that mirrors the rich culture and history of the country, and ArtBlue Studio presents this slice of the pie that invigorates the walls and spaces the art thrives on.