The brilliant imagery of Christine Nguyen resonates immediately and innately. It speaks to our curious inner child — one in complete wonder with the natural world. No knowledge of concepts or techniques are required to enjoy her work, though appreciation is deepened by delving into the ideas, processes, and stories behind it.
Her photo-based drawings are luminous and easily interpreted as the deep sea or the cosmos. They are displayed in large, wall-sized installations that immerse visitors into the mysterious realms of anemones, asteroids, plankton, and planets. Nguyen explores the parallels between the macro and micro worlds, envisions their intersection and integrates them seamlessly.
In addition to the glowingly stark C-prints, Nguyen incorporates salt crystals into much of her other work. Specimens that she collected in the wild become the foundation for delicate crystalline structures, while drawings and cyanotypes are given a new depth and frost-like effect.
She describes her work as an homage to nature rather than an attempt to replicate it. Her intrigue with the sea is traced back to growing up her father, who was a fisherman in coastal California.
Nguyen received her master of fine arts degree from the University of California, and her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. She currently resides in Los Angeles.
How do you experience your surroundings and how does that affect your creativity?
I’m constantly looking at things in my surroundings — especially things of nature. I feel like I’ve seen everything in my everyday environment, but every so often I’ll see something that I have overlooked and feel just as excited during the discovery. More so on my walks in the neighborhood. Things in nature inspire my creativity. I definitely borrow from nature when I’m drawing my forms.
What role does science play in art?
Science is quite influential in art. With new discoveries and technologies, I feel like it fuels inspiration for those who are interested in the sciences. I’m sure there’s a history of it, too. Such images of outer space or knowledge of the celestial skies to microscopic imagery was not always around. I look at NASA photos all the time and get excited when I read about some form of discovery, whether in plant and/or animal life, geological or in space.
What is the difference between seeing and looking?
You can see something every day but not really look at it. It’s all about taking the time to notice the little things.
What draws you to Iceland?
I’m fascinated with the geology and terrain of Iceland. It’s really a magical place, and I hope to go there someday. I believe the natural phenomena of Iceland will be an unforgettable experience that is something out of the ordinary with its terrain, culture and natural wonders that will flourish my creativity. It is a place that reaches out to both my art practice and myself in a metaphysical, spiritual way.
What about crystals and salt attracts you?
I’m interested in the makeup of them. The process and time it takes for it to form. It’s a wonder of nature. Salt interests me because it is something that preserves but also decomposes things it comes into contact with. I recall reading about a bacteria that was from thousands of years ago that was encapsulated in salt crystals.
How do you go about getting crystals to form on the objects and specimens?
The crystals are made from borax and salt. You boil water and slowly add salt or borax until it has reached its maximum salinity. You are basically making a supersaturated salt water solution or borax solution. Salt crystals take days, weeks, to months depending on the environment, temperature and humidity. Borax crystals usually take about 8 hours.
Where do your objects come from?
The objects are collected specimens from mostly the West Coast — my everyday environment and travels to the ocean, mountains and desert. Some of my friends have also been collecting things they think I would be interested in. In the current exhibition at Flagler College, students went out one day to collect things in the area and they were shipped to me to be crystallized.
How would you explain the making of your C-prints to a layperson?
I basically made my own negatives by drawing and painting on layered sheets of Mylar and then use them in a color photographic enlarger in a darkroom. When I’m making these drawings, I have to think in reverse, because once printed in the darkroom and processed, it is generally the opposite or reverse of the drawing or painting.
In your artist’s statement, you say that you are developing a “personal cosmology.” What stories are you telling?
I’m creating stories of cycles of life and how things are being used and reused or recycled, and also creating narratives of various fictional characters and places. In some ways, I think it’s going back to my childhood, remembering how I used to make up stories in my head all the time.
Why are the concepts of recycling, regeneration and reusing important to you?
Thinking about the world we live in, I think about how wasteful we are. It’s one of the reasons why I think those ideas you mentioned are often found in my work. My work is a form of utopia where everything connects to one another and everything is recycled.
Most art is best experienced in person, and Nguyen’s work demands it. Her exhibit in St. Augustine, Florida will be up until Feb. 25 at the Crisp-Ellert Museum at 48 Sevilla St., which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. More of Nguyen’s art can be viewed online at www.lephant.com.