Artist and Gallerist travel the road of memory
One a stranger in his homeland, one a stranger in a land of strangers, Nguyen Cam and Suzanne Lecht are celebrating 20 years of art and life in Vietnam, each possessing a rich memory full of longing for a life lost and a well of happiness for a life regained.
I had the good fortune to meet Nguyen
Cam in 1996 after he had been invited to come back to Vietnam by the
government to teach and exhibit. Nguyen Lai from the Nam Son Gallery in Hanoi and I had formed a wonderful friendship as he was
introducing me to the artists and culture of Vietnam. One day as I walked into
the gallery, Nguyen Cam was there, resplendent in his Panama hat and easy
French charm, we struck up a conversation and realized we were both strangers
really in a land that possessed and filled us with a longing to discover the
weave of the fabric that bound our spirits to this mysterious land.
I visited Cam frequently in his studio and would also visit the Hanoi Fine Arts University where he was teaching the best and the brightest. For all of us the synergy and passion uniting this artist to his homeland seeped into our being, filling us with a desire to share this fire within the artist. I was inspired to delve into the depths of the psyche of this enigmatic land in an attempt to discover this invisible, incomprehensible link I felt in my soul. In 1997 the Nam Son Gallery in Hanoi exhibited Cam’s works in a solo exhibition entitled Roots 1997. These works portrayed the very essence of what I was looking for as I followed the artist’s digging into his past to uncover all the injuries and vestiges of his country’s war torn history as well as his own. Tarpaulins of canvas upon which torn, used rice sacks were applied hung freely, the artist eschewing any boundaries in an attempt to let his emotion run unfettered across the canvas, releasing all the pain and sorrow erupting like a storm of unresolved memory. Roots, Traces of the Past 1997. Canvases were slashed and torn, then patched and sewn together with fingers trembling as the artist slowly began to mend the blessures of time. Against Wind and Tide 1999. Votive paper offerings, small patches of silver leaf applied lovingly as one might adorn a Buddhist sculpture, began to surface in his work. Fragments of the past and a reverence for the present appeared as adornments marking his reconciliation with his history and with his heart.
In 1998 I had a solo show of Cam’s work at Arts of Pacific Asia in New York City. The response was one of surprise and admiration that Vietnam, this war torn country with its sad history linked with America, was a culture of sophistication and contemporary art. These works were abstract compositions of faint hope, promise of a measured peace with history and the man.
The artist continued to work through all the sorrow and the works slowly evolved into lighter more joyful work. In 1999 Cam and I made a summer trip covering both coasts of America exhibiting in Oakland, California, Sante Fe, New Mexico and New York City which further marked a shift in the mind of the artist and his work. A freedom hard won emerged, walls were broken, the alluvial soil ebbed and flowed as the wellspring of his hopes and joys were finally released from their stricture.
In 2003 Margrit Mondavi invited Cam and I to come to the Napa Valley for a solo exhibition, Spirit Harvest 2003, of Cam’s work in honor of Robert Mondavi’s 90th birthday. The artist was all too happy to spend time in the verdant valley, finding peace and inspiration in the rolling hills; undulating forms appeared in his work and a sense of being at one with the world and life coming full circle emerged. Calligraphy III 2003.
In 2004 Art Vietnam Gallery mounted Cam’s solo exhibition The Music of Silence 2004 at its Hang Than location in Hanoi. Ginkgo leaves, a poetic symbol of the power of regeneration began to appear, broad gestural calligraphic strokes of movement, the celestial wonders of Heaven and Earth, all were imbued in works that sprung forth defining a man who had joined with the world and all its wonder. Reincarnation 2004, Heaven and Earth 2000.
2005 opened the next chapter for Art Vietnam Gallery with its new gallery, the Fielding Lecht Gallery in Austin, Texas, a collaboration of Suzanne Lecht and childhood friends Bill and Pam Fielding, with the solo exhibition of Cam Landscapes of the Soul 2005. Ginkgo leaves falling on the landscape of the Austin hill country, Texas Dreams V 2005, and Harlem Blues 1999 are expressions of this free, music loving capital of the West that touched the artist’s playful spirit.
2007 marks the next solo exhibition of Cam’s at the Art Vietnam Gallery in Hanoi, As Time Goes By 2007. Time has passed, peace and calm prevail as the artist begins to enter the autumn years of his life. The poetic Ginkgo leaves remain, a marked sense of time passing is in the structure of the works, an orderliness and the rhythm of time slowing passing by is depicted by tea bags suspended in the works marking a solitary moment, the artist flows in the river of life. Time and Calligraphy 2007.
2010 exhibition Traces 2010 finds the artist ruminating on his past, present and future. Marking the time, measuring the distances covered, there is a silent strength and solemn acceptance of the unknown, the final journey. The works are contemplations; empty spaces occur leaving room for the unspoken, utterances of what is known that has no need to exist. Black Sun 2009, Day and Night 2008
2014 marks the 20 year anniversary of Cam’s return to his homeland and the 20 year anniversary of Suzanne Lecht working and living in Vietnam. On December 13, 2014 Art Vietnam Gallery will celebrate this occasion with the 20 year retrospective of Nguyen Cam in Vietnam, Imprints of Origin 2014. Peace and joy render their quiet imprint as the artist eases into the autumn years of his life. The works have an inner light that emits a joyful reunion with nature. Ephemeral forms appear, leaves turn into flowers, an explosion of power and light spread like a comet racing across the sky, a visual reference to the existentialist Albert Camus. “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.” (1)
Artist and Man are at one with the world; happy, solitary, strong, united with the past, revering the present and looking toward the future. “But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?”(2)
Suzanne Lecht Art Director
(1 and 2) Albert Camus, French existentialist author & philosopher (1913 – 1960)