Michelle Nguyen's Uninhibited Art in GalleriesWest Magazine

Vancouver painter Michelle Nguyen was recently interviewed by Portia Priegert of GalleriesWest for her exhibition "Of Tristia, Forlorn!" at Bau-Xi Vancouver. In the article, Michelle cites the wide-ranging influences on her painting practice: from poetry and digital culture to the writing of 20th century art critic John Berger, and even her personal background as a child of Vietnamese refugees.

"One of her favourite paintings is Apparitions in a Crowd. “I’ve always been interested in the macabre, and as a kid, had an active imagination and always worried about monsters and things. I don't know. I guess in some way they are kind of weird Freudian reflections of my unconscious, or something. I don’t think about it too much, to be honest. People are always asking me these questions and I don’t necessarily know how to answer. There’s a reason you choose painting instead of writing – because I don’t know how to express that in an articulate way in the English language.” - Portia Priegert on Michelle Nguyen

"Of Tristia, Forlorn!" is on view at Bau-Xi Vancouver until September 23. See the full Michelle Nguyen collection here.

Read the article on GalleriesWest

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Artist Q & A: Sheri Bakes

1) Is painting a deeply personal process for you? What does painting mean to you?

I think painting for me is a way to process things deeply. To connect to and align with the miracle.  Frederick Franck describes this best in speaking about drawing: 

"It is in order to really see, to see ever deeper, ever more intensely, hence to be fully aware and alive, that I draw what the Chinese call 'The Ten Thousand Things' around me. Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world. I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle”. – Frederick Franck

2) You’ve mentioned before that you often work from photographs because it helps ground and stabilize your compositions. From this place you described how you can create movement from “a more intuitive place”. Could you describe in more detail what it is that you attempt to capture?

Capture is an interesting word. At the base of all of my work, from the beginning, is wind: Ruwach - Spirit, breath, wind - which are impossible to capture. I think that's the challenge: how to really express this quality in a painting. Being impossible to capture without ending its life, the trick is to somehow become it and express what that feels like. Seemingly impossible, but fun to try. 


3) We’re excited to hear that Darlene Cole’s work served as an inspiration for these new paintings. What other artists have informed your recent body of work?

Honestly, Darlene is completely blowing my mind with her work. She's the only one I really follow on Instagram and she's it as far as I'm concerned. She paints with such a great mix of confident vulnerability and in such a masterful loose and free way. Her style is so foreign to me and I'm completely in awe of her skills, intuition and heart. 

4) Could you describe your own relationship to gardening, or more broadly, to nature and how it informs your art practice?

When I was a child I spent hours every day in my parents’ gardens. Especially the food garden. When I was young our garden was huge. Peach, pear, plum and cherry trees, raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries and a lot of vegetables. I haven't had my own garden for many years and am looking forward to having one again next year. As far as nature goes, I feel best when I'm outside. I always have. As a kid I slept outside as much as I possibly could. This show was all made while painting outside. I feel disconnected when I'm not outside. When I can't experience shifts in light through the day, changes in barometric pressure, birds singing ...

My work needs to stem from a place of alignment (as opposed to competing or being out of tune) with nature so it informs the work a lot. Nature is the tuning fork. It keeps everything in tune. 

 Sheri Bakes, Feeding Bees, Oil on Canvas, 40 x 40 in.

5) Could you speak more about your plein air painting practice? Do you have specific rituals or routines that help ground you?

My dogs actually ground me the most. On breaks from painting we go for walks, hikes or do some training. Their non-verbal companionship grounds me.

In the studio I sometimes listen to the CBC and sometimes music but often it’s just silent. I do find silence grounding, as are the natural sounds of birds, frogs or crickets. While painting for this show, I was surrounded by mourning doves every morning. I found their sounds very soothing and sympathetic to the process of painting.

6) How important is spontaneity in your art?

I’m drawn to the freedom of spontaneity after conceptualizing an idea. It’s a process of letting go and learning as you go. In my first poetry class in university, the instructor introduced us to Theodore Roethke's poem, 'The Waking'. This poem, and his reading of it, completely transformed my mind with respect to process and taught me to "learn by going where I have to go."

7) You seem to have a great interest in the physical world’s process of transformation and renewal - how would you say you respond to the cyclical nature of seasons through your work?

I appreciate the structure that natural cycles provide, kind of like growth rings in a tree. In the larger picture, natural cycles are stabilizing and grounding.

8) How has your work developed in the past few years and how do you see it evolving in the future?

The work has become increasingly abstract and the movement is now often contained within the piece instead of veering out of the top right of the canvas. I seem to be making less small work now and using photos less and less.

I'm interested in the physicality of the paint, and also in saying more with less and moving into a painting practice that is very minimal. I'd like my paintings to become better listeners. I really need the vastness of space and silence. It seems a bit like the world could use more of that, too.

 Sheri Bakes, Rain Oil on Canvas, 52 x 52 in.

Wind Songs opens at Bau-Xi Vancouver on September 9

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1) Poetry is a major influence for you, how did it inspire the title ‘Of Tristia, Forlorn!’ and in what ways do the two mediums intersect in your practice?

One of my favourite poems, Rodney Koeneke’s “Tristia” is my inspiration for the title. When asked about its influence, I give the example of the line, “one minute you burn, the next/you’re gelatinous as cold spaghetti.” Koeneke has the ability to seamlessly flit between these two vernaculars, one of extreme intensity and passion, and one of light jovial nonsense. This contrast is the perfect precedent for how I want people to receive my work.

Poetry is something that I learned to love before I started painting, and in those regards, I will say that my love for poetry is greater. Furthermore, I believe the two forms of expression to be quite similar in that they are both obscured forms communicative mark making.

 Michelle Nguyen, Brides, Oil & Pastel on Canvas, 48 x 59 in.

2) How does your identity and personal history inform your work?

Both of my parents are Vietnamese refugees, and as a second generation Canadian, there is this unsettling feeling of inhabiting an ecotone, torn between the clashing of two sets of values and morals. There is this transgenerational transmission of trauma that I don’t quite understand, and this otherness that exists in both the cultures I occupy. I have accepted that I will never fully be able to articulate and understand the weight of these things. Sometimes, my paintings feel like strange Freudian dreams that capture those conflicts of identity.

3) The majority of your paintings are figurative, what sources are your figures drawn from and are there specific narratives, cultures or figures real or fictional, historical or contemporary that guide your work?

I have a great deal of reference photos stocked up on my phone that I am constantly referring to when I compose a painting. It’s like one big Pinterest board. I pull inspiration from a lot of different worlds of lore and theory. At this moment in time, I am really driven by spatial theory as well as Grecian mythology and the Victorian aesthetic. Honestly, it really depends on what I have been reading that week.

4) You’ve mentioned that you’re greatly influenced by artists like Cy Twombly, Cecily Brown, Egon Schiele and Andy Dixon, could you explain the specific ways in which your practice has shifted as a result of your exposure to their work? 

They have all had a hand in defining the way I paint. I can recall each painting I made after learning about their work. Cecily Brown and Egon Schiele have kept figurative painting exciting for me (a subject I previously had venomously opposed). Andy Dixon has done the same but has also introduced me to the use of oil pastel. Cy Twombly, who is ultimately my favourite painter of all time, has shaped my practice the most. There is just so much confidence and vigour present in his mark marking. You can practically feel the vitality from his brushstrokes. His dynamism is something I am constantly trying to emulate.  

Michelle Nguyen, Jelly Jamboree, Oil & Pastel on Canvas, 48.25 x 59 in.

5) Can you explain a little about your process? Do you paint with a sketch or with a composition in mind or is it more spontaneous? How do your canvases evolve into its final form?

I don’t usually do any sketches to prepare. I’ve taken this approach a few times, and it seems more limiting to me than productive. I have a handful of loose and disjointed ideas going in and I feel like I can only figure it out on the canvas itself. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle or a collage. Additionally, I try to treat my canvas as a palimpsest. If something doesn’t work out mid-way I just paint over it with an understanding that no brushstroke is squandered and that they just add to the intricacies of the painting.

6) What does the body represent in your work and in what ways does the figure or the crowd interact with the viewer?

I am largely interested in aesthetic theory and was mostly painting abstracts up until I read Ways of Seeing by John Berger. I specifically was interested in his essay on the naked versus the nude, and the distribution of power amongst the audience and the subject. I thought it would be fun to attempt to invert this dynamic, so I began to experiment with these images of overwhelming mass crowds and alien bodies.

7) Humour plays a significant role in your work, why is it important to you to inject an element of the absurd and comedic into your paintings?

The elements of play and bricolage are very important to my process, and I want that lightheartedness to come through in my paintings.


Michelle Nguyen, Carnivory, Oil & Pastel on Canvas, 56.25 x 41 in., 2017

8) You work primarily in oil paint and oil pastel, which qualities in these mediums draws you to them?

I consider oil to be way more forgiving than most painting mediums. I love the texture of oil paints and its ability to capture the subtle gestures of ones brush. As for oil pastels, I think they just aid in emphasizing my existing illustrative style.
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David Burdeny | Featured artist for 'The Frame' by Samsung

Artwork by David Burdeny, presented in The Frame by Samsung

We are excited to announce that acclaimed Canadian photographer, David Burdeny, has been selected by Samsung as a featured artist for their innovative and design-focused new product, The Frame. See Burdeny's working process in the video below.

Click here to view more work by David Burdeny.  



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NEW WORK | Joshua Jensen-Nagle

Joshua Jensen-Nagle beach photography, presented by Bau-Xi Gallery

Incredible new beach scenes by Toronto artist Joshua Jensen-Nagle are now available at Bau-Xi Photo, Toronto.  Visit us at 350 Dundas Street West to view in person.  

Click here to see more work by Joshua Jensen-Nagle.


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New Artist: Michelle Nguyen


Bau-Xi is thrilled to announce the latest addition to the gallery roster: Vancouver painter Michelle Nguyen.

Michelle Nguyen’s darkly whimsical paintings explore subjects pertaining to ephemerality and divine myth with humor. Working primarily in oil paint, her canvases, populated by liminal figures inhabiting cavernous shadows, can easily be described as hauntingly intrusive. Nguyen utilizes oil pastel, loose gestural markings and ambient colors to devise illustrative paintings dense with mythology, symbolism and narrative.

Nguyen hails from Toronto and currently resides in Vancouver. She studied Environmental Design and received her undergraduate degree from the University of British Columbia in 2016.

The exhibition, "Of Tristia, Forlorn!" will open on September 9th in the Upper Gallery of Bau-Xi Vancouver.




Michelle Nguyen in her studio. Image Credit: Claire Saksun


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1) There is a story about your initial inspiration deriving from a forgotten yellow pages on the curb. How do you continue to derive ideas from found objects and your surroundings?

I am continually collecting old books, un-wanted books, phone books, periodicals, newspapers, mail order catalogs and used envelopes.  There is always something new that appears that will spark an idea.  After I’ve completed a new body of work, I’ll take a break, clean out the studio, and start collecting again.


2) When you are considering a book, or some other printed material for a new piece, what formal characteristics factor into your decision?

I prefer to compose most of my images within a square, which is classical in photography. I like symmetry and balance most of the time and often I weight the image from the center.  A circle in a square is a favorite beginning.


3) Do you begin sculpting with an idea of how you want the final piece to take form, or is there a different process involved?

Much of the time I don’t begin with a clear idea of how the final image will be.  I like to move the pages around, wet parts of the book, and use different media such as dye and watercolor.  As I manipulate the pages I can start to see what I think will work.


Cara Barer, Dreamscape, 2017


4) What is the most indispensable item in your studio?

It would be hard to choose only one thing that I consider indispensable. One thing for sure - air conditioning!  My first studio did not have that and living in Houston makes it essential.  If I’m thinking about being hot I can’t think about the work.  Of course I use a computer, but if I didn’t have an excellent print making set up I wouldn’t be able to proof until I’m satisfied with the final image.  For me that is really important.  I have to print at the full size before I can send them off to be printed by a lab.


5) Once your sculptures are complete and you have translated them to a print, what becomes of them?

I’ve been saving most of the sculptures after I’m finished.  Some I can’t save because they have fallen apart.  

6) You have an incredible instagram feed that depicts your work, as well as your experiences travelling the world. How do your artistic practice and travel experiences inform each other?

I’ve always liked to travel. I find it inspiring to see new places and different cultures.  For example, India is a visual overload of color, patterns, print and textures.  It is everywhere.  Photographing just those elements led me to create “Namaste.”  


7) Certain elements are consistent in your work, such as background colours the use of print materials, and yet each piece you create is completely unique.  How do you adjust your process to give each piece distinct characteristics? What factors do you consider?

Each piece is unique, because each book is a new beginning.  I start fresh every time with a different one.  The quality and properties of the paper can vary a lot.  Age, and the way the book is bound are also factors.  Now that I’m also printing my own images and binding them into book form, the images are truly one of a kind. These hand made books have never been officially published and consist of my own personal photos. I have an almost infinite source of material as long as I keep traveling and photographing.


Cara Barer, Kashmir, 2017

 Cara Barer photography, presented by Bau-Xi Gallery, Toronto
Cara Barer, Baroque, 2017

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Ted Fullerton recently completed a large scale, bronze commission for the City of Waterloo. Titled Nuts, the playful installation highlights connectivity and community in a shared public space.

Using the harvest table--a symbol of gathering--as the basis for the sculpture, Fullerton connects the environment and the community it serves.  A squirrel and acorn are positioned on each of two tables, symbolically referencing the importance of nature, connectivity, and preparedness. Fullerton says of his commission:

"Nuts [is] intended to align and create a connection between the site environment and the community it serves emphasizing a spirit of optimism while symbolically referencing the importance of nature and our direct association with it in “connectivity” and preparedness. Its conceptual foundation and humanist aesthetic is intended to reinforce the significance of this being a place for community functional “gatherings” and sharing while playing off the sculptural component of the nut and squirrel as a visual pun."

Read more about the commission on CBC News here.


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In The Studio: Jamie Evrard

A recent visit to Jamie Evrard's Vancouver studio had us confronting a riot of roses and peonies! These loose, gestural works represent a productive summer spent examining the form of particular blooms that continue to mesmerize the artist.



Looking forward to seeing this lush and spontaneous painting in the gallery upon completion



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On Set: A Photoshoot with Barbara Cole

Watching Barbara Cole on set is like being at the theatre. We spent the morning with the artist, and got to see how she captures moments from her incredible productions and translates them into sublime images. 

Cole's studio assistants set up the temporary studio next to the pool where the photography shoot will take place.

One of Barbara Cole's vision boards, where she collages together sources of inspiration. 

 Prior to the shoot, each model has a custom wig sewn to her hair.

Costumes ready for the next model.



Barbara Cole's latest series will be previewed exclusively  at Art Toronto from October 27th - 30th.

Please contact us at photo@bau-xi.com if you would like to be notified for previewing.

The exhibition, "Figure Painting" will open November 4th at Bau-Xi Photo.




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Barbara Cole underwater photography at Bau-Xi Gallery

Alla Prima, from Figure Painting, Chromogenic print face-mounted to plexiglass, available in 3 sizes. ACQUIRE

About Barbara Cole's forthcoming series, Figure Painting

Photographer Barbara Cole’s latest series Figure Paintings extends, with renewed subtlety, the artist’s long affair with her preferred mediums: water and light. Like a painter, Cole mixes and layers, blends and builds her compositions into ethereal portraits rich with rhythm and dimension. Inspired by the painting techniques cited in their names, these figures—Alla Prima, Underpainting, and others—are like beautiful ghosts: barely outlined by the dance of light across skin and fabric; so near the surface and somehow just out of reach. Cole’s camera lens—a tool which for the artist does not “capture” her created worlds but rather brings them into existence—plucks her ethereal subjects as though from a dream, granting them each a moment of stillness. 

Experience Figure Painting in person at the following events:

July 2017: Selected artwork preview at Bau-Xi Photo, 350 Dundas St. West

October 28, 2017, 6-8pm: Preview at Art Toronto, Metro Toronto Convention Centre

November 4th, 2017, 2-4pm: Opening reception at Bau-Xi Photo, 350 Dundas St. West. Exhibition continues to November 18th



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COMING SOON: New Work by Cara Barer


Cara Barer book photography, Bau-Xi Gallery

This September, Bau-Xi Photo is thrilled to present new work by prominent American artist Cara Barer.  Click here if you would like us to email you a preview of the new series. 

September 9-23, 2017
350 Dundas St West, Toronto 
Opening Reception, Sat June 9
2:00 - 4:00 pm


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