Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 3, No. 1, 2004

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Robert J. Lewis
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Bernard Dube
Phil Nixon
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Robert Rotondo
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Emanuel Pordes
  Arts Editor
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
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Rochelle Gurstein



by Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal


mix media on wood panel, 24 x 48 in.

The designation ‘abstract art’ is not really a style but a description. When we say that abstract art is an art that does not attempt to represent the appearance of any object, real or imaginary, or that abstract painting is “an absolute entity with no relation to objects of the visible world” we are, rightly or wrongly, describing an impossibility. I will adduce the exemplary abstract art of NGUYEN TAI and propose that the description and/or definitions of abstract art exist only in theory and that art as “an absolute entity with no relation to objects of the visible world” is not viable.

The principles that disclose the universals governing geometrical concepts -- which avoid all reference to the material world while proclaiming abstraction in art free of any subjective influence and therefore only obedient to universal laws -- were conceived in order to position abstract art as the art of the elite. This development served to compound the already natural impenetrability of abstract art and subsequent attempts to define and describe it only resulted in the further intimidation/ alienation of the viewer.

I propose that the abstract forms that inform abstract works of art always have their origins in the artist’s mind, and therefore refer, consciously or unconsciously, to the known world. Even in the most abstract of compositions there is a link to a known reality because existential or philosophical being is always (pace Sartre) being-in-the-world.

Composition 140
mix media on wood panel, 47 x 33 in.

But short of inviting controversy or contesting existing theories, my objective is to describe abstract creations in such a way to make them more accessible and to attract a wider public to a very valid and extremely therapeutic form of artistic expression.

Abstract art is so difficult to evaluate because there is nothing concrete which would allow us to measure whether or not the artist has succeeded or not in capturing or representing the essence of what the artist may have had in mind. Naturally, he/she, the artist must rely on composition, colour and execution but, for the average viewer, these criteria are not sufficiently developed to rescue him from his gut response: the viewer is left puzzled and frustrated before a work whose greatness escapes him. So how is the viewer to separate good from a bad art? At the individual level, it may be the observer’s reaction to it; at the collective level, who knows?

Abstract art, more than figurative art, is meant to stimulate imagination and to speak to the observer at a guttural and emotional level. Needless to say, whether by a famous or an unknown artist or whether abstract or figurative, a work of art that does not move the viewer has absolutely no value.

An abstract work is a very generous gift because the artist is permitting the contribution of the spectator in the creative process and there is no end to the pleasure of participating in this process. An abstract painting is the pictorial equivalent to the tales narrated by Scherezade in 1001 Nights. It offers a starting point that gives the viewer the opportunity to develop the work as he or she pleases. In fact, it is the observer who completes the piece and has the opportunity to make an abstract work of art a never ending story because this kind of work allows re-invention with every new gaze. And, like the effects of listening to an imaginative story narrated with gusto, a work of abstract art can have an entrancing and therapeutic effect. The work of the Canadian/Vietnamese painter NGUYEN TAI offers us this kind of experience where the intent of his art is matched by the effects. I spoke with TAI in his studio where he described the Buddhist ideas behind his painting, which became the starting point of a journey I wouldn’t have missed for anything.

No. 4
mix media on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

Nguyen Tai on Buddhism and Abstract Art As a Way of Life

Painting is a way for me to grasp life, love and death. Just as I wish to communicate with others, with the sky and the clouds, to clutch a stone, to brush against the pasture, to feel the sun and the cold on my skin; art is happiness for me.

Since 1987, my work takes Buddhist Theory as a starting point. My paintings include several elements evoking the stability and peace essential to meditation, such as mountains, the moon and space.

The Moon, the Sea and the Mountain
mix media on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

More than a narrative link, the mountain is a symbol of stability and strength representing the stable position sought by the Buddha to meditate.

White Peak
mix media on canvas, 39 x 27 in.

The moon is symbol of peace and of serenity; it defines the conditions necessary to meditate.

The Moon R-16
mix media on wood panel, 30 x 27 in.

Lastly, I use space so that each colour seems to defy the restrictive framework of the canvas. This pictorial space suggests something unlimited where the spirit wanders when it reaches the plenitude achieved through meditation.

Trang Chin-Tu
oil on canvas, 20 x 26 in.

For me, to paint is to contemplate – nature, for example. The materials used for my collages, whether silk paper, sand or steel wool, do not intend to evoke nature but to form an integral part of this nature, which is more than just the image.

Composition 143
mix media on canvas, 40 x 32 in.

Though each canvas may conceal one or more stories, I do not aspire to narrate these stories; rather, I aspire to relieve the spirit of distressed people through the peace and serenity emanating from my works, as a monk does through prayer.

The Artist Nguyen Tai

Nguyen Tai is on permanent exhibition at La Galeria, 1618 Sherbrooke St. W., Montreal (514) 932-7585. To contact the artist, please contact Arts Editor Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal at


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