“The confrontation with the two infinities [the sky and the sea] humbles us and brings us back to a dialogue with ourselves.”
At the end of the 1970s, barely one year old, Bao Vuong, huddled in his parents’ arms, made the long crossing on a makeshift boat, like thousands of other boat people fleeing the Vietnamese communist regime, following the invasion of South Vietnam by North Vietnam. From the traumatic “memory” (reported) of this crossing, of the nights on the high seas, of hunger and thirst (which almost proved fatal to his family, saved, in extremis, by the rain), the artist has made the soil of his cathartic work. Begun in 2017 (after the shadows of the past had resurfaced), his series The Crossing declines these black seas of memory in a series of monochromes made of paint impasto, to which graphite powder and incense ashes are now added.
In the 23rd in the series, done in 2020, the mass of paint masoned with a knife covered the entire surface of the canvas. In the 115th, made this year, it occupies only a little less than half of it, leaving a sky of ashes unfolding on the horizon, and even a moon spreading its rays… If in its blackest preparations it was already crossed by eddies (“sculpted” in the thickness of the paste to catch the light), the sea appears here all spangled, like a black diamond… More tactile, moving and vibrating than ever, in other recent works, it even appears as if transfigured by sparkling skies with radiant clouds. Do these shimmers and holes of light in the incense skies represent the hope of a rebirth or renewal on the horizon?
Just as he has drawn a tenuous, barely perceptible golden line between the two panels of a diptych buried under a “mountain of darkness,” Bao Vuong opens the “narrow door” to heaven: “much lighter because traced with a mixture of graphite powder and ashes of burnt incense, these passing clouds can connect us to heaven, to an afterlife,” explains the artist, who has reconstructed the altars dedicated, in Vietnamese homes, to the prayer of the deceased guided by the smoke of incense (a vehicle between the living and the dead).
“Showing the infinity of the sky” in the opacity of the nights and, beyond the darkness, hope…
Exhibition Bao Vuong, Horizons
At the A2Z Art Gallery
24, rue de l’Echaudé, Paris VI
Until January 23rd