NW Vietnamese News

Mukilteo artist’s paintings traveling in exhibit, Thu Nguyen

February 03
20:19 2011

In one of Thu Nguyen’s paintings, a woman is standing alone by a window. In

another, that same woman is browsing real-estate ads; in another, she is playing

with her baby; in yet another, the woman is wrapped up in sheets, dreaming.

Nguyen, a Mukilteo artist, has but one model she uses for her paintings – herself.

Her self portraits are now showing in the Arkansas Women to Watch traveling

exhibition. Nguyen recently moved from Arkansas to Mukilteo.

The 2011 Arkansas Women To Watch exhibit is sponsored by the Arkansas Committee of

the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA). The exhibition is traveling across

Arkansas until March 19.

The exhibit shows artwork by women artists who were considered for the NMWA’s

biennial Women to Watch series. Seven women – including Nguyen – were selected to

represent the state of Arkansas.

“What I liked about her paintings is that they are of women doing very mundane

things women do every day, and she’s made them into quite extraordinary pieces,”

said Joey Halinski, exhibit coordinator. “It’s a light show.”

“She’s one of the few artists I’ve seen lately who is just absolutely great at what

she does,” she said. “She’s a very professional artist.”

Nguyen was notified by forwarded mail that she was to be highlighted in the

traveling exhibition.

“After I moved away, I was surprised that they tried to contact me in Arkansas,” she

said. “I was very flattered that they still consider me an Arkansas artist.”

Nguyen also oil paints landscapes and plantscapes – including scenes from Seattle’s

waterfront and the Ballard locks – but her current focus is an ongoing series of

figurative paintings of herself, five of which are showing in the traveling


The series was inspired by New York photographer Cindy Sherman, who turns the camera

on herself.

With the series, she hopes to explore how her varying emotional states, which range

from defiance to despair, can be captured in paintings of herself.

By using herself as her only subject, she said she intends to go beyond the

superficial variety of art in which different models are painted in the same way,

and instead explore how a variety of emotional responses can be generated using the

same subject with different poses, lighting and environments.

“I love painting because it gives me great enjoyment,” she said. “ I lose myself in

time, and the day-to-day worries just vanish… and when I have completed a painting

I feel like a part of me will be remain when I am gone.”

She poses herself in front of a mirror to paint herself, sometimes using several

mirrors or a camera to capture the angles she can’t see. She first draws her

portrait, and then paints it, going back and forth from mirror to canvas, holding

her image in her memory.

Nguyen said capturing just the right angle and just the right light in her paintings

is very difficult – so she needs to try over and over again.

However, she said painting herself is easier than trying to find a model willing to

sit with her for long periods of time, painting after painting. Nguyen paints about

six portraits a year, spending about two months on each painting.

“A lot of people don’t have enough patience for that and, for me, it feels natural,”

she said. “I can sit in front of the mirror and paint whenever I feel like it, day

or night. I don’t have to be limited to anything.”

Nguyen is originally from Saigon, Vietnam. She spent much of her childhood making

quilts, doll clothes and painting because she was too shy to play with other


In 1975, as communists were invading Saigon, Nguyen, her brother and sister

mistakenly escaped from Vietnam with their uncle in a boat – separating them from

their family. They were rescued by a merchant ship and were the first group of

Vietnamese refugees to arrive in Hong Kong.

After living for a year as an orphan in Hong Kong, Nguyen immigrated to the United


Since then, she has moved from state to state, city to city, including Los Angeles –

where she had a stint in Hollywood as an actress and fashion model – Cabot, Ark.,

and now Mukilteo.

As a result, her art is shown in many public and private collections, coast to coast.

In addition to the traveling exhibition, Nguyen’s art is also showing at the

Fountainhead Gallery in Seattle. The gallery is open Thursdays and Fridays from 11-6

p.m., Saturdays and Sundays noon-5 p.m. and is at 625 West McGraw St., Seattle.

Nguyen has a painting degree from California State University, and is a member of

Oil Painters of America.

-Sara Bruestle

Published by Mukilteo Beacon newspaper on Wed, Feb 2, 2011



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