Hom Nguyen, French artist of Vietnamese origin, has made his mark in the art world with his distinctive emotionally charged paintings that explore the human condition, as well as themes of integration and immigration in a non-political manner. His paintings are deeply personal, reflecting his own journey as an autodidact artist and his experiences as a child of Vietnamese immigrants growing up in France.
His new exhibition Entité will be held at Soho House Hong Kong from 12 to 14 May, organised by Step Creation Gallery, whose founder, Stéphane Vartanian, has been a collector and supporter of Hom Nguyen for years. Ahead of the show, Nguyen shared with us his artistic exploration, inspirations and creative process.
Hom Nguyen was born in Vietnam in 1972. He never knew his father. He fled the country with his mother during the Vietnam War, when he was just a child, and settled in France.
His appetite for drawing started very early:“At school, I was not the most studious of students, but I loved to draw. I drew all the time and got scolded by my teachers when they caught me drawing on my table”, Nguyen says.
When his mother – his only family – became paraplegic and couldn’t work, Nguyen left school at a young age and started working, but his artistic passion never left him. In 2009, when his mother died, he felt the irrepressible urge to draw and paint. He quit his job as a shoe sales man to throw himself body and soul into artistic creation.
A self-taught artist, Nguyen never took drawing lessons. Realising his works on canvas in different mediums, such as pencil, pastels, China ink, charcoal, acrylic and oil, he began by painting huge portraits of celebrities, then developed more personal works of women and children, echoes of his past, exploring the themes of identity, displacement and memory.
“My subjects are often female, and children are omnipresent. This is probably due to my personal history and my very strong relationship with my mother. But in general, I don’t have a favourite subject. What matters is the human, the values that guide our steps, the emotions that run through our lives”, explains Nguyen.
His art is also influenced by his interest in psychology, especially works by Freud and Jung, and is paintings often explore the complexities of the human experience. Using bold and expressive brushstrokes, Nguyen creates a sense of urgency and emotional fervour, enabling viewers to delve into their own emotions and background.
Emotions are at the centre of Nguyen’s creative process: “Before starting a work, I always sit for a long time in front of the blank canvas. I try to understand it, to feel it. I apprehend my paintings as unique beings, each with their own vibrational energy. I like this singular moment, in which the field of possibilities is infinite. Then, after this round of observation, I let my instinct and imagination run through the canvas”.
Although very recognisable, his artistic style has evolved over time, especially with the use of vivid colours: “I don’t like what is easy. I don’t like people saying that a work is pretty. This is why, at the beginning of my career, my work was rather monochrome in black without too much colour. And then over time, with my children who came into my life, I wanted to create more accomplished works, sometimes lighter, with more material and colour”.
When questioned about his artistic influences, Nguyen talks about sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966): “I like the line of Giacometti who never completely defines his model. It brings no certainty. Sometimes, he even has a hesitant side. Giacometti, in his works, sometimes suggests perspectives, proposes temporary limits. He gives shape as much as he disfigures. It’s a way of expressing yourself that speaks to me”.
About his links with Asia, Nguyen says: “My roots take me back to Asia. Since 2016, I have been regularly present in Hong Kong, and in South East Asia, because I believe that it is important to enrich the cultural link between Asia and the West.
With this in mind, Hom Nguyen collaborated in 2016 with Chinese artist MA Desheng, one of the founding member of The Stars, first avant-garde movement of contemporary Chinese art, and they created two artworks with four hands.
Talking about Entité (Entity), his upcoming exhibition at Soho House Hong Kong, Nguyen explains that the title comes from the Latin “ens”, “entis”, which means “being” and evokes the desire that drives him when creating his portraits: that of representing the essence of beings, their inner worlds and the foundations of their lives.
“The exhibition brings together a series of works around this idea, but also that of transmission, integration, exodus and commitment”, he says.
The exhibition of Hom Nguyen’s works in Hong Kong not only marks a significant moment for the artist, but also for Step Creation Gallery. Founder Stephane Vartanian sees this exhibition as a turning point in the development of his gallery in Asia, with upcoming exhibitions and art fairs participation in Singapore, Tokyo, and Seoul.
Passionate about art since his childhood in an Armenian family of art collectors in France, Vartanian met with street artist CEET in Hong Kong in 2009, which marked a twist for him, who then decided to evolve from art collector to art curator.
Gathering around him a group of artists such as Cyril Kongo, Colorz, JonOne, Joris Ghilini, Vartanian developed his support to street artists who were not selling artists at that time and started to organise pop up exhibitions in a showroom in Hong Kong.
In 2019, he created Step Creation Gallery, exhibiting artworks at art fairs, such as Affordable Art Fair, Art Central, Fine Art Asia.
Since November 2022 and a first exhibition by Cyril Kongo organised in Tokyo, Vartanian has been developing his presence in Asia by organising more solo exhibitions in Hong Kong and other Asian cities, and by participating in art fairs outside Hong Kong.
The opening of Entité will be held on 11 May at Soho House from 5pm until 10pm in the presence of Hom Nguyen.