What's in a face?

Photos: Mozart Advisory

Hom Nguyen has had quite a journey to be where he's at. Arguably, he would have entered the art scene much earlier if not for life and responsibilities hindering him (adulting is hard, folks). But one pivotal and rather painful event catapulted him into it and the rest is history. Now, after having famous and iconic people as subjects of his tantalising and intriguing portraits, as well as having held exhibitions in many parts of Europe and Asia, the French artist brings his art to the Big Mango at the Galerie Adler with an exhibition titled "Racines", curated by Laurent Macaluso. Guru chatted with Nugyen about his journey, art and exhibition in Bangkok.

What made you go from being a shoe salesman to an artist?

As far as I remember, despite never going to art school, I liked to draw. Amusingly, life brought me to art. My mothers passing away in 2006 made me become an artist. Losing a family triggers a lot of emotions and I found a way through painting to express my feelings and pain.

You studied techniques from tattoo masters in Japan. How did that impact your art? Do you still use their techniques?

I went to Japan to understand the essence of tattoo arts. I felt that I needed to understand drawing on human skin. Though I was born in France, the Asian philosophy and tattoo arts have influenced my drawing dramatically. I inherit both cultures: Asian and Western. That's the reason why my drawings reflect huge emotions and spirituality.

What's in a face? Why do you choose to focus on it and not a full-body portrait?

I've done full-body and hand portraits. However, I chose to concentrate on facial portraits as I'm passionate about wanting to express my emotions in facial expressions as it offers more variety of emotions and feelings.

How do you convey a depth of emotion with just the face?

I use different materials on the paintings like oil, charcoal, pens and pencils. I play around with textures to express the emotions on my painting. My work on the material is instinctive and controlled. The emotions are endless. Between impression and disappearance, transient and eternal, the portrait is the way I express life.

You've had famous subjects for your portraits from a historical figure like Napoleon Bonaparte to more recent icons like the late singer Edith Piaf and former US first lady Michelle Obama. Do you feel that there's a difference when you're doing a portrait of someone who's well-known?

To me, there is no difference. Everyone is equally recognised. As for the 250th birth anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte, I made this painting dedicating for Corsica where he was from. As for Edith Piaf, I made a donation of the artpiece to the hospital she was born in Paris. Since my mom was handicapped and confined to a wheelchair, I often spent time at the hospital and it was like my playground. To make a difference and give an opportunity to other kids like me, I'm devoting to teaching art classes in hospitals and orphanages in Asia. I contributed Michelle Obama's portrait to the Musée de la Monnaie in Paris, in collaboration for Vogue and Christie's, to raise the funds for the UN.

Who would you like to draw a portrait of?

The world is so wild and there is so much diversity in humanity. Everyone is unique in their own way, rich in history and full of emotions to be shared with world. They gave me such a passion to draw more pieces and I realise that there are lot of faces to draw!

What made you want to bring your art to Bangkok?

I'm lucky to have a dual culture -- French and Asian. I visited Bangkok before and I had a chance to discover that Bangkokians have a thirst for arts and are full of culture. For this trip, I'm eager to share my experience to Thai people. I hope they discover something new through me as a bridge connecting French and Thai culture.

What do you want Bangkokians to get when they visit your exhibition?

It's always a question of humanity when it comes to exhibition theme. Like my previous collections as 'Sans repères' (Without Landmark), 'Trajectoire' (Trajectory/Trait), 'Cri intérieur' (Inner Scream), 'Ligne de vie' (Line of Life), 'Dark Side' -- each exhibition is an experience for the public, as well as for me. And the latest collection 'Racines' (Roots) is a quest for our origins and the incarnation of what founds all human destiny, an opening to a more timeless and universal dimension where each spectator can find his or her intimate part.

"Racines" by Hom Nguyen is being exhibited at Galerie Adler, 373/2 Charoen Krung 45. Email contact@galerieadler.art or call 099-016-3073.