Today I met New York artist Christian Nguyen. Christian's work spans drawing, painting and sculpture, and is equally influenced by mathematics and by social and spiritual concerns. Christian works in many interconnected ways, ranging from process-oriented abstraction to figurative proposals for monuments, but his primary body of work is a series of images based on a concept of the Tower of Babel, which he imagines to be an architecture of homogenizing totalitarianism. The structures of these fragmented interiors may be benignly controlling, allowing for perceived freedom of movement within their strict parameters. The spaces are often embedded within mountainous landscapes that suggest a contrast between nature and culture. This formal language is an allegory for the choices we make to participate in society, straying from the state of nature and exchanging freedom for protection.
Terraced Fields, 2006
In this work, the focal point is usually placed centrally so that the architectural spaces recede, pulling the viewer into a psychological labyrinth. Christian draws with charcoal on stretched, unprimed canvas, allowing drips of pigment from the raw landscape areas to stray into the rigid and precise architectural spaces. He is beginning to introduce color into the newer works, so that the spatial void doubles as both a symbol and a raw wound inscribed into the canvas.
Poliarcopolis, installation at Wave Hill, 2008
The project was inspired by his 2000 residency at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's World Trade Center studio, and the subsequent destruction of those buildings which resulted in an awkward marriage of sacred and corporate spaces at the site known as Ground Zero. This began an inquiry into the parallels between civic, economic and social structures of control, manifested through depictions of regimented and closed architectures. He draws inspiration from mandalas, cathedral plans, ziggurats and other such examples of mathematical order in the service of larger systems of thought. Fundamentally, his subject is the means we humans have imposed throughout our history to understand and order the chaotic realities of our world.
Christian shows with Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco, where I was originally introduced to his work.