Artist: Tony Nguyen
Media: Meta, Installation
Gallery: CSULB School of Art, Dr. Maxine Merlino Gallery
About the Artist
Alright, I think I discovered a new favorite artist from the galleries this week, and that is Tony Nguyen. This was one of the most fun, interesting and intriguing conversations I have had with an artist so far because of Tony’s enthusiastic personality. After five and a half years, Tony is currently finishing up his last semester here at CSULB and pursuing his BFA in the Metal-Sculpture program. He also revealed that his parents are from Vietnam and he is the only member of his family to go into an art-related field. Tony is from Gardena, and he began his art career as a drawing and painting student, but later moved on to illustration. However, during this time, Tony realized that he wanted to do something more than just draw. He wished to be an inventor of sorts, like he wanted to be when he was a kid. With his degree in, Tony hopes to venture in prop-making, create equipment for movies and television shows, and even make jewelry on the side. While chatting with him, I discovered that Tony is a great storyteller, and he was very willing to share the stories and inspiration behind each of the pieces he had created for this installation. Through this conversation with Tony, it was clear to me, and I’m sure to everybody else he spoke with, that he is very passionate about his work, and that is what I admired the most.
Walking into the exhibition, my first impression of the pieces that I saw was that they each had a sort of unique, child-like nature to them. This exhibition contained different collections, including a group of little sculptures which Tony described as different representations of himself. Though the pieces in this collection appear to be made out of some sort of clay, they are actually made of aluminum.
I really enjoyed Nguyen’s other collection that consisted of an armored glove, a leather and metal arm guard and a crown. I thought that this collection showcased Nguyen’s precision and attention to detail when it comes to smooth, clean lines on his metal pieces. Each of the three pieces were finished in a way that added to the almost glowing-like smoothness.
In contrast, Nguyen definitely has a gift when it comes to creating jewelry. On display was a piece of braided metal that could be worn as either a necklace or a bracelet. Nguyen mentioned that the braiding of the metal took about six weeks to complete. Nguyen noticed that I was wearing a lot of rings on my hands while I was checking out the rings he made and had on display. I was very impressed with the fine detail on each of the rings. He talked about how it is truly amazing what you can do with metals, like these rings for example. If you just saw these rings, do you think of the process that went on behind making them? He said that you actually make wax first, then melt the wax and shoot the hot silver into the mold and make the ring. Interesting!
Nguyen described how his goal of this exhibition was to allow the viewers to create stories with what they perceive and for them to create a sense of nostalgia for their childhood/youth. I am going to talk a little bit about my favorite piece in this exhibition, the “vending machine”. This machine caught my attention because it did in fact remind me of my childhood. I was always drawn to these as a kid. There was just something about getting a quarter from your parents, twisting the little nob and watching the machine dispense your toy or candy through the little hole. It simply made me happy, even if it was just for a little while.
I asked Nguyen what the thought process was behind this piece because it really intrigued me. He talked about how this vending machine really fit the theme of his show because when he was a kid growing up, he would always ask his parents for quarters. Now a days, we ask for larger bills. Back then, when we were kids, coins weren’t really money to us. They were more of a trade currency for a toy we wanted. He said that, in a way, you could buy happiness, though not in a shallow sense. You can actually have a coin that you have worked for or found on the ground by chance, and then you seek out that vending machine to find that happiness you want and you buy it. You then feel fulfilled in a way because you have earned it. That is what he was trying to represent through this piece.
This piece also appears to be red-painted wood at first, which is exactly what I thought, but Nguyen revealed that it is actually all copper. He said that people think he is lying to them when he says it’s made of copper, but there’s no lying here. He’s just that good.
Synthesis / My Experience
All of Nguyen’s pieces had a way of capturing his audience’s attention. What I enjoyed the most, however, was that you could sincerely tell that this is what Nguyen loves to do. I think it really shows when someone has passion and pride in their work, and that was very apparent to me throughout my experience in this gallery. As I mentioned before, this was one of my favorite exhibitions so far, but I think Nguyen is my new favorite artist. You could tell that Nguyen is still young at heart through his personality and through his work, which made it a really interesting and enjoyable visit. The stories behind each of his pieces show that you can still connect to your childhood experiences. He felt that many people have forgotten what it was like to be a child, and I think his exhibition was an awesome reminder to not let go of those child-like feelings and memories. For me, I felt like this exhibition successfully pulled off that goal of nostalgia.