17 Jun 2021
Hom Nguyen – The Stroke as a Lifeline

“I do not look for ultimate beauty, I look for feelings and their substance.” Hom Nguyen’s style, in its connection with expressionism, speaks to everyone, with immediacy. His unique approach vibrates with contained vivacity, revealing a style of emotion and spirituality beguiling his spectators. Hom Nguyen puts himself on the line and his compositions express […]


“I do not look for ultimate beauty, I look for feelings and their substance.”

Hom Nguyen’s style, in its connection with expressionism, speaks to everyone, with immediacy. His unique approach vibrates with contained vivacity, revealing a style of emotion and spirituality beguiling his spectators. Hom Nguyen puts himself on the line and his compositions express this determination. The strokes run across the canvas without really knowing where they are going. His past as an athlete of extreme sports unconsciously pushes him to experience, yet again, the strength, the glide, the void, and the transcendence, which we find in his pencil drawings.  

June 1986, Paris, Trocadero Square…  as usual a crowd of onlookers gathers around, mesmerized as they watch enthusiastic kids on rollerblades, The 340 Team. The Trocadero has been a historical meeting place for Parisian roller skaters since the International Exposition in 1937. Under German occupation during WW2, members of the Resistance used the code “Three, Four, Zero” to set up their secret meetings on the famous Parisian esplanade, facing the Eiffel Tower. Open to the general public, the esplanade was ideal for discretion. Carefree, insatiable, boundless, and ethereal, Hom Nguyen is only 14 years old when he performs his incredible leaps…  

Hom Nguyen was born in 1972 in Paris. His first experience with color was with patina on leather shoes. As a child, he showed an early talent for drawing, yet 2009 was the year art took over his life – like a dire need to express his feelings when his mother died. His mother was from the “boat people” generation who immigrated to France in the seventies. From the day she passed away, his journey has been a quest for his origins, an interrogation of the past. Hom is a bearer of memories. 

Between 2011 and 2014, Hom Nguyen finds and perfects his style through celebrity portraits. It turns out that these portraits were people venerated by his mother, and a large part of his childhood environment.

1984…  at the end of a school day, his rollerblades on, Hom races through the streets of Paris on his way to see his uncle Pierre Bui who lives in a retirement home in Barbès. He glides through a panorama of contrasting environments, from extravagant apartment buildings in Paris’ bourgeois quarters, to a more common style in the working-class neighborhoods. These urban excursions reveal a multicultural society to Hom. Uncle Pierre Bui is like a father. With him, he discovers jazz, pop, African American music…  He initiates Hom to the world of culture, to literature, museums such as the Georges Pompidou Center, to karate with Bruce Lee movies, and he takes him for walks in the Luxembourg Gardens. 

2015 marks a turning point in his career. Hom creates his self-portrait with the Iwazaru, Mizaru, Kikazaru triptych for the collection Hidden. This work is Hom Nguyen’s first and only self-portrait.  The artist transcends the three wise monkeys and their story by turning the mute monkey, Iwazaru, into a praying monkey. The portrait suggests his own painful story.

The "Hidden"

September 26, 1986… Indian summer blows a warm breeze into Autumn. Hom and Van Khoi his “adopted father”, are at the dinner table, and Van Khoi suddenly collapses – from a heart attack… 

The self-portrait marks the beginning of Hom Nguyen’s international fame. It is one of the artist’s iconic works, a trigger for his introspective period. This prompts Hom’s quest for his roots.

Early 2016, he introduces the Sans Repère (Without Bearings) collection, a series of masks without a mouth inspired by Asian children. The fruit of a mental projection based on pure imagination, a connection with his heritage rather than direct experience, emotion here and now. Hom’s deliberate choice to exclude the mouth in these graphic portraits intrinsically reminds us of the condition and attitude of immigrants in France, particularly Asians, who have no right to speak once they arrive, “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”. Hom Nguyen clearly questions us on integration and immigration, still of relevance in our society today.  

One painting in Sans Repère (Without Bearings) collection

That winter of 1991, France is hit by a wave of intense cold. Thi Lan, Hom Nguyen’s mother, is watching the pearly, grey sky. Thick clouds filled with snow in the icy air are about to shed their burden… She misses her homeland, and she is filled with melancholy, each day a little bit more. She shares her sorrow with Hom, who knows how painful it is for her to stay away from her native land.  She longs for Hanoi, her city, and tells Hom about her memories, the fragrances, the landscapes, the faces…

It is not by chance that the faces painted by the artist evoke an Asian semblance. An echo to a memory, the history of Vietnam, unknown to Hom who unconsciously searches for his missing part, crossing both time and space, from miles and continents away, among faces sketched like a path towards another life: between persistence and evanescence, eternity and a fleeting moment. He gives shape to his images while he disfigures others.

During that same year, in 2016, Sans Repère (Without Bearings) stepped aside for a new collection of portraits called Cri Intérieur (Inner Cry), a myriad of emotions. Hom’s oneiric faces with mouths fastened shut were succeeded by a series of faces portraying intense vocalization, open anger, euphoria, and hidden melancholy. Hom Nguyen is attracted by the substructure for all human destinies: joy and sorrow, desire and fear, a cry and a hush, the material and the spiritual, presence and evanescence, now was the right time for Cri Intérieur (Inner Cry).

Cri Intérieur (Inner Cry)

March 13, 1974, 10:48 pm. Thi Lan is on her way home after an evening out with her friends. The taxi driver falls asleep at the wheel. The car smashes into the highway’s crash barrier, propelling the car into several flips. The shock is violent. Thi Lan is now paraplegic. Young Hom Nguyen’s life is rivetted into a world of doctors, hospitals and patients; disarticulated, weakened, and ill… souls locked up into a body.

The following year, the artist creates a new collection called Ligne de Vie (Lifeline). Hom Nguyen frees his emotions and offers a paradigm change. From his beginnings, the man fills in the blank pages of his life by moving onwards. And what if he was climbing out of darkness towards a more accomplished destiny, full of light and spirituality? To achieve this, he creates a unique collection with black backgrounds. The artist is maturing, asserting his own style with more confidence, revealing a connection to Western culture – totally free, without boundaries, leading him towards other traditions like Asian art and philosophy, calligraphy, and Chan Buddhism.  

Ligne de Vie (Lifeline) Show

Sunday, September 16, 1986. This morning, Hom wakes up inebriated by the gentle smell of spices. His mother has been cooking since sunrise, preparing phò. Hom loves it when Thi Lan tells him about the philosophy behind Vietnamese cooking: balance, Yin and Yang. He understands balance, a master of glide himself in perfect control to accomplish the most astonishing acrobatic feats on rollerblades. Hom wakes up as usual, staring at the big pot like at a magic cauldron full of mystery, simmering for hours. In anticipation for his bowl of soup – his fervor is as strong as if he were witnessing a miracle.  At last, like each time, a blast of flavors explodes in his mouth, the hot, fragrant soup, a magical blend of spices and herbs! Today will be a great day…

2017 is also the year for Hom Nguyen’s Trajectoire (Trajectory) collection. Hom’s lines in movement are more liberated and ethereal than his earlier collections. They continue to travel on the surface of his canvas, in search of something: his origins. Today, we are what we have decided to be. But at the source, we all have one thing in common: someone we have always looked up to. A hero to a little boy, a grandmother to a father. A mother to Hom. Trajectoire (Trajectory) illustrates this psychological, transitional, and universal state, where the mind meets the hero physically or psychologically. We all travel towards our personal destiny, creating connections with the other. Hom’s surrender, his regressive, emotional outlook is more mature and identifies with his inner child, the one who grew up with his mother.

It is the summer of 1983, Hom is 11 years old, and one evening his mother starts looking at him intensely for a long time… she then puts her hands firmly on his and tells him: “my son, always be genuine… you must not be afraid of showing people who you really are. Be curious and be open…”

Hom Nguyen’s style is the bearer of this memory passed on by a devout and kind mother. It is the bearer of spiritual sensitivity, and an appreciation for quiet, communicative, and mysterious strength, which emanates from some of his works. 

In 2018, Hom Nguyen introduces Dark Side, his new collection. With his strokes, Hom Nguyen gradually unveils many paths to reveal a single vision: his secret garden, his intimate space, his hidden truth. Alone against his demons, Hom Nguyen creates a series of portraits where the faces seem to be hiding or disappearing. The freedom of motion and brush strokes contrasts with the solitude of the moment in which we all find ourselves when faced with doubt. Indeed, every human being protects a part of themselves. Everyone at least once in their lives hides behind a mask, to relax, reassure, and protect themselves. The lines symbolize those fine and fragile membranes which protect souls and emotions as best they can against the outside world full of dichotomies. 

The "Dark Side" show of Hom Nguyen

Once the veil has been lifted, our fabricated attitudes that we all have in society are revealed. The movements are an eternal back-and-forth like heartbeats, like an emotional elevator vacillating between friendship and hostility, trust and doubt, love and hate. 

1988, 9:30 am on a Thursday, math class, Camille Claudel high school in Paris… Every Thursday, Hom gets up with a lump in his stomach. Hom is angry with school, he is having a hard time in many of his classes. He hates mathematics, which is hell for him, and he suffers tremendously in his struggle to achieve the right answers for his calculations and equations. Starting the day with this class petrifies him. He suffers in silence from being a bad student, from the indifference of most of his teachers who have given up on him and see him as a lazy student, from his classmates who make fun of him, from enduring hours, days, and years of classes without understanding anything. Yet Hom hides his pain deep inside, he does not want to be considered weak, he will not give them this pleasure. So, every Thursday morning, Hom puts on a big smile, gives his mother a kiss, and heads off to school.  

June 2009. It has been two months since Hom Nguyen lost his mother. He needs to find himself again, recharge his batteries. He goes to Vietnam for a month. He arrives in Hanoi where he only stays a few days. This old city of 1000 years, charged with history with its tree-lined streets, its gardens, and its little Parisian touch, unleashes an energy, an atmosphere, which is too unbridled for his taste. He needs to capture other sensations. He rents a motorcycle and starts his journey. Hom has no specific destination, he just wants to be on the move, live from day to day, let himself be carried away by the people he meets… One day, after riding his motorcycle for over 10 hours, he takes a main road, then a smaller one, and notices an old dilapidated sign that points to a possible shortcut, and takes it. Unfortunately, it quickly turns into a rocky track with steep rough slopes. Hom observes and assesses the possibilities and shortcomings for the motorcycle. The shock absorber in the front hits the potholes, the bike takes a first jump, the brakes begin to fail him…  It all works out, but what a dizzying experience, he loves it! The only thing is, he is in the middle of nowhere. It is 7 pm, just when the sun sets at this time of the year. He turns the headlights on, which, of course, only light the stars. Luckily, it is a full moon, the sky is clear, and he ends up in the village of Bao Lac. This little hamlet in the extreme northeast of Vietnam, on the edge of the northern province of Cao Bang along the Chinese border, looks like the end of the world. Hom stays there for a few days, with a Black Lolo family. The mountainous regions of Bao Lac are home to many ethnic minorities. Originally from Yunnan in China, the Black Lolos followed the southward migratory movements in the 15th and 18th centuries to settle in the landlocked mountains of the Upper Tonkin. Hom feels at home, he loves the energies that emanate from the mountains. The Black Lolos believe in spirits and genies. The village chief, the keeper of the sacred copper drums used to communicate between the living and the dead, invites Hom to a celebration of ancestral rituals. This is a magical moment for Hom, where time is suspended in flight. He is shaken by this experience, which appeases and soothes him at the same time.

Hom Nguyen’s work challenges us, projects us into an imaginary museum where past and present coexist, in a synergy that combines the force of tradition with the vigor of the modern world. The mystical and compassionate energy, present both in his heart and his work, urges the artist to travel the roads of Asia. 

2020 introduces the Empreinte (Imprint) collection. The artist offers a new perspective on the human condition. Drawing on the impact of consciousness intertwined with matter, he encourages reflection on our different facets as human beings. Diving into the abyss of our existence where the experiences and imprints of past lives emerge from the canvas: this is his intention. And for this, he brings us back to the essential, draws karmic lines, gives shape as much as he alters. Temporary yet eternal, his style is nurtured with outbursts of emotion that reveal a mesh of dissonant layers of memory. Cycles of unfinished interactions and their echoes, sketches of human souls in search of spirituality.  

It is summer… Hom is exhausted. When he looks up at the sky, he is struck by the scorching sun. The air is suffocating, and to protect himself from the sun’s blaze, Hom is wearing a Chinese hat. It is so hot… that a steady stream of sweat runs down his body. Water is omnipresent, he does not like this humidity, this dampness that inhabits him permanently, it is unpleasant. His hands are swollen. When he looks down, Hom sees his legs in water and mud, devoured by mosquitoes, his skin cut by the rice grass. He feels so tired, he has the impression he has been here in this rice paddy since eternity… and then there is also this haunting music he keeps hearing, which he does not recognize right away because it is only a murmur… But it sounds familiar. The music gradually becomes more intense, the sound more distinct. It is Prince, Purple Rain… Hom opens his eyes, and exits his dream. 

The artist’s work is a matter of existential commitment. It keeps a record of the ordeals experienced. It tells the truth, revealing it more extensively, and with deeper intensity. Hom Nguyen’s art merges the visible with the invisible, intimate whims with fleeting dreams. In perpetual movement, incessantly renewing themselves, constantly experimenting with different mediums, Hom Nguyen’s lines give form to, and simultaneously disfigure, the image emerging from a magma of overlapping tangles and spider-like superimpositions. Between imprint and dissolution, temporary and eternal, Hom Nguyen’s style is particularly sensitive to the human values he embodies and conveys: a sentiment of appeasement, respect, and communion. Values which for him are the foundation of all art, like a path that links one human being to another, and all of us to each other. 

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