People

Michelle Nguyen’s Studio

It’s a singular space – from the soft white walls under the shadows of an industrial skylight, to the carefully tiered plants, the rescue porcelain cats, and the candy-coloured barber’s chair. All of the in-studio colour – the drips on the walls, the smears on the well-squeezed paint tubes, the pigments that will never wash out of the tips of those brushes –  creates a perfect home for the canvases of the enormously talented painter, Michelle Nguyen.

To make your way to Nguyen’s studio, you’ll walk up through an unmarked building with woodworking saws on roar, by-appointment galleries, and a community of potters. Open the door and you’ll quickly scan the room in which Nguyen spends most of her day. “I like small spaces,” she says as she scoots from one side of the studio to the other.

The eye is drawn to a nook of old black and white photos and postcards. “That’s not my family. It’s just a random photo I found. Photos are so interesting to me. People take them because obviously they think that particular moment is important.”

It’s the art, of course, that is most striking in Nguyen’s studio. She works quickly. “I like starting multiple pieces at once. Sometimes I just clean my brushes on another canvas.”

Nguyen will get so absorbed in her painting – listening to Cardi B or podcasts like Invisibilia– she’ll have to remind herself to leave the studio at some points in the day.

Nguyen doesn’t go in with a strict idea of how a painting should look.  “There is less pressure that way with the painting, more experimenting. There are no expectations. You can just go into it; you’re going to make something. You don’t know what it’s going to be.”

People will stare at Nguyen’s paintings, building stories around her vivid characters and their colour-seeped settings. “I guess I’m just thinking about composition when I’m arranging the characters. I’m not interested in creating a narrative, but I do love how my work gives people the ability to imagine that on their own.”

Figures will emerge as she is working. “The figures appear. It’s like seeing a figure approach you from the dark.” You might see glimpses of Kim Kardashian in the work in progress below.

“When people say you have good taste, they are just saying that you like the same things as them. It’s bs. You want to hang up this nice painting on your fireplace, well there’s Kim Kardashian. Does that make you feel less intellectual to own that?”

You’ll also notice pottery around the studio with carved illustrations that clearly came from Nguyen’s hand. “I have been taking pottery classes at the studio next door. When the space freed up, I just knew I wanted it so bad so I could paint, then walk next door and make a pot. It’s a bunch of young women mostly going in there, being really supportive of each other, making pottery, catching up.”

With her star so clearly on the rise, it’s not fair to ask Nguyen to imagine the future. But, wherever she looks, she sees this studio. “The world is so scary now. I feel safe here.”

Written by Elizabeth Newton
www.creatorsvancouver.com

Header: Nguyen. Marsh Birds. Bau-Xi Gallery

Finale: Nguyen. Allegory. Bau-Xi Gallery

Michelle Nguyen Q + A

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