Photos and interview by Anna Nelson-Daniel.
Lynx Nguyen’s repetitious technique of mark-making visualizes the labor inherent in his artistic practice. The process involves filling the frame with layers of pen ink using an electric drill. Both method and material resonate with the everyday.
Nguyen earned his MFA from Savannah College of Art and Design and BFA from Georgia State University. We met in an exhibition space behind his residential studio to discuss his work in the upcoming exhibition Flourish with Kai Lin Art gallery.
ArtsATL: You often mention discipline as a key component of your methodology. Can you talk more about that?
Lynx Nguyen: Among very successful people there is always some sort of discipline. That discipline is already within us. It’s discipline that gets us out of bed and to work. It’s just a necessary thing to do. If you have that discipline there’s nothing you can’t do. Why is someone doing artwork? So that can be proved as a person.
So all of my work is this way to go within this discipline. There is just a need to dig that out. My work is to do that so that I’m able to control what I want to do with my discipline. Something you do daily as part of that process. Sometimes it’s so hard with the changes of daily life.
ArtsATL: At what point did you incorporate power tools into your creative process?
Nguyen: After my first year at SCAD, I started mark-making and was always looking for a more efficient way of making this faster. Also, during that time I was researching reincarnation and the cycle of life. So I was looking for that circle, something to create that cycle. The drill is perfect because it’s making a circle there. That represents our thoughts going through our minds daily. The work is an internal reflection. You don’t have time to sit there and pay attention to it.
The drill here is perfect for this concept. This process requires effort, discipline, physical work, sacrifice. That’s the part that people don’t understand about my work. It’s fast using the drill, but in less than five minutes your hand could be broken. There’s a way to hold and to distance your body to overcome the pain.
Using the drill is extremely difficult to do because there’s a lot of wear and tear. The tear shows a loss of focus. This is metal, and this drill is flying 4000 marks per minute. If you’re not focused, it can dig into the paper, chew it up, tear it up. So you have to have that mindset of walking on thin ice, just to hit the surface like this one at a time to layer.
ArtsATL: So meaning accumulates in the effort put into creating the work itself. You choose the ballpoint pen for its’resonance with beauty in the ordinary or everyday. What do you intend for the viewer to take away from engaging with your drawings?
Nguyen: I want my work to bring this peace, this enlightenment, this awareness to other people. When viewers write with the pen [later on], they start to pay attention to it. To talk about this work, you have to know the nature of these things. This kind of work is ink. To get to the deeper color, it takes quite long. Some people associate my work with meditation. It could be like that.
ArtsATL: In an exhibition with Monmouth Museum in New Jersey, you exhibited the work Please touch. Since, you have exhibited the work Interaction art with MOCA GA. What has your experience been with the audience in these participatory pieces?
Nguyen: This art is not about seeing. A lot of people want to see what’s in there. They show me a lot of artists, and the composition is amazing. Some of the Korean artists who work with oil painting, it’s amazing what they’re displaying – everything is there. The power, the envy, everything is there. This work is about something more to connect to.
ArtsATL: Are there particular artists that draw you to this minimalist aesthetic?
Nguyen: Abstract expressionism in New York — it’s so expressive! It’s amazing! Korean Minimalists — it’s amazing!
[I’m working with] a very special paper in Japan. It’s handmade and is so soft. The pulp of the layer of the paper is very furry like a furry. They make about seven sheets a day. It takes 47 buckets of pulp just to get this thick and large size. I’m all about searching for the best paper. I use different materials to try out with pen and ink.
Richard Serra did a series of drawing with oil stick on that paper. Right now I’m still experimenting in the gallery space to gauge people’s reaction. In a gallery, works are refined. On a large scale the impact is there. Sometimes I have to negotiate between a mix of paper and canvas. So it’s a process of reaction and learning. The simple answer is that the main focus is how to make the work less interesting as possible. The reason why people prefer this work, think it’s better, is that they see the texture, see the mark-making — they can see so many things.