Artist Q & A: Michelle Nguyen on her Solo Exhibition "Predation"

We sat down with painter Michelle Nguyen to discuss her new highly symbolic and surrealistic body of work titled "Predation".  This collection features her mythological creatures and also brings intriguing still lifes and residential interiors into the mix.

1.  Can you describe some of the symbolic elements in these new paintings such as the butterflies, fish, ants, birthday cakes, and figures within circles?

Ants: Near the end of Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, the protagonist realizes that she had made the mistake of attempting to eradicate the ants that have infested her apartment, and remarks that she now sees these insects as the thread that holds her broken family together. This description of a line of marching ants stitched through the fabric of her home like the crudely mended holes in a well-loved sweater is an image that really resonated with me. It has since burnt itself vividly into my memory. The ants found their way into my work around the same time.

Birthday cakes: Celebratory, an excuse to bring everyone together in my family. As we got older, these gatherings at my maternal grandma’s house became less frequent. They remind me of growing up and growing apart.

Butterflies: I find butterflies absolutely fascinating, as they are creatures that are full of contradictions. Butterflies are often seen as symbols of hope, representing transformation and resurrection in multitudes of cultures. Often with spiritual connotation, often related to the heavens. In reality, butterflies are objectively one of the grossest organisms on the planet. Other than nectar, butterflies enjoy feasting on fecal matter, urine, and fleshy decay. They are also capable of being gynandromorphs (organisms that contain both male and female characteristics). Gynandromorphs can also have visible bilateral asymmetries, such as the butterflies in the painting Feasting. They are gross and beautiful and I love them dearly.

Fish: Fish, much like insects, are often unappreciated in their contributions in many ecosystems. It is also a personal reminder for me of my family’s origins.

Figures within Circles: A claim to space. To mark one’s territory.


2.  Are there any new artistic influences in these works? 

Hockney plays an influence in one of these works In Praise of Shadows. Some other artists that have influenced these particular works include the painters Laura Findlay and Jessie Makinson, as well as writers such as Anne Carson, Samanta Schweblin and Carman Maria Machado, both for their beautiful vivid contemporary magic surrealism literature.


3.  What prompted your exploration of still lifes?

My interest and fascination with death bleeds into my work all the time. I adore Dutch still lifes and memento mori painting and wanted to do my take on them. Whether the relation to death is obvious or not, I’m always exploring the fragility and resilience of life of all kinds (humans, animals, plants).


4.  Can you explain the myth that inspired the painting Superbloom?

The particular narrative I had in mind while painting this is the Grecian myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, which is an obsession of mine. This scene in particular depicts a veiled Eurydice picking flowers on her wedding day before being fatally bitten by a viper.


5.  Are all of your landscapes imagined or do you source imagery from existing locations?

The majority of the paintings are imagined landscapes with the sole exception of Predation (Circumnavigating Peach Beach) which is also probably the most personal painting within the show. That particular painting depicts Trout Lake in East Vancouver, the park that I frequent during my runs. I pull a lot of references from saved Instagram images. A lot of it is imagined though, heavily influenced by the books I am reading at the time.

View additional work by Michelle Nguyen HERE

Established in 1965, Bau-Xi Gallery represents both Canadian and International artists, exhibiting Modern and Contemporary painting, photography, and sculpture in three art galleries in Toronto and Vancouver.

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