In Portraits of Light, Doan Xuan Tang’s impressionistic paintings favor the observations of an ethnographer’s memories within indigenous terrain. By seeking creative inspiration in native landscapes, Tang joins the likeness of artists Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, and Andre Derain while blending the influence of Neo-impressionism and the brightness of fauvism. The emotional qualities within the paintings draw the viewer into his narrative in the same way that poetic field notes serve as part documentation and part expression. Most importantly, Tang’s passionate work translates his experiences of studying the cultural landscapes of the remote mountainous Northwest Vietnam, luring us above and underneath the surface to see the beauty in historical topography and culture.
Tang’s vivid imagery preserves memories, narratives and customs, and tributes the mountain regions of Vietnam as an inspiration to modernist thought and his own cultural history. The works use contrasting paint streaks with representational details, while connecting symbolic references from the past to the future. His paintings remind us that our view of portraiture and cultural surroundings can be expanded to include images that are full of energetic colors, lines, and textures.
Trained at the Hanoi Fine Arts University, Tang blends cultural painting traditions seamlessly and meaningfully. In Tang’s portraits such as, “Mountaineer Children,” he paints Hmong children with expressive detail and empathy. The four children are adorned in customary dress and speak to the complicated, simplicity of their lives; yet, Yang does not shy away from referencing the origins of modernism’s legacy within the mountain landscape: nearly all of the children (except for one) appear gazing at the viewer. Tang plays with the stimulation and placement of color in the background as both illustrative skyscapes and flat abstract paintings. The children become flat and multi-dimensional; traditional and modern all together.
Likewise, in landscapes like “Khu vườn yêu (Love Garden),” Tang’s skies mimic multi-iridescent tones and hues. Tang is interested in representing the shades of mountain culture against contrasting nature spaces. The dabs and streaks of paint form landscapes of wildlife, which are rich with representational and nonrepresentational qualities.Yang’s abstract paintings are dreamlike, relics from a historic time that have been reclaimed through line and mark. Like ancient scenes on screen the light in each painting flows in and out with tones that fade into its surroundings. Delicate strokes of gleaming lights hover over each image in a sacred harmony.
All works from Portraits of Light promise to be paintings worth seeing. Though Tang’s work has been exhibited widely abroad, the upcoming exhibition at the International Modern Art Gallery marks Tang’s first exhibition in the United States. Each painting in the series displays a different ray of brilliance and an awareness of distinct visual encounters. Tang’s ability to paint light not only display’s his sensitivity to everyday life but confirms his value within contemporary art.