Julien Nguyen

Julien Nguyen might be our last great painter, saying this may seem like a very serious statement, but then again there is something truly serious about art, at least for Julien. Julien’s work is an homage to the renaissance and impressionist periods of art with his unmistakable contemporary flare. For Julien, it’s worth mixing the pigment for hours on end to create that light that shines through behind the painting. There's something divine in the paint, maybe it’s the same divinity that was painted onto the plaster walls of churches. Or maybe it’s in the way Flemish work seems to be looking back at you. Julien's fluency in culture both past and present allow him to dissect niches of European master painting styles, moments of the Vietnam War, and conversation about gender. In Julien’s words, “The paintings dictate the rhythm of [his] existence”, and of course we found him painting.

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What was your childhood like?

My parents actually, before they divorced, lived in DC – they ran a really nice restaurant that went out of business. Because they, you know, kind of partied too hard in the 80s, early 90s. But they had one of the first sort of Vietnamese restaurants.

Do your parents run any restaurants now?

Not any more. My mom does real estate, my dad owns a beauty school in Culver City. My dad's the youngest of 10. He came over to the states when he was 17 from old Vietnam. My grandfather was rather high up first during the colonial government and then I think he was working in the finance ministry in the Republic of South Vietnam. So they came from a fairly prosperous background and also a very diplomatically involved background but when they came to the states all that kind of faded away, the situation was completely different.

What was your thinking behind your New York Times altarpiece?

I was asked to be in the Whitney Biennial and those two pieces were for it. I kind of came up with the idea for the show in New York. It emerged as a little bit of a site specific joke to myself. But then I wanted to use the format of the newspaper, as a sort of kind of fucked up contemporary altarpiece. So if you just imagine – what would you do if you have photos in there, but you remove all of the text – you create that sort of from your framework. It sort of worked out quite nicely.

How does your drawing influence your painting?

I've been working on these beautiful silverpoint drawings, alongside my painting practice. I was gonna include some of them in the show originally but the gallery I show with wanted to hold them back for about a year or so. I like these thin aluminum panels that I have. It's like a thin rod of silver. It's what they used before they had graphite. I've started to get back into drawings. It's so nice to get into an actual rhythm of work without having such intense deadlines. Since I was 21-years-old I've basically had a solo show every year.

It’s really wild how long you’ve been actively working and showing, have you shown all over the world or mostly in American galleries?

I started out showing with a European gallery, in Frankfurt. The school I was at was basically the equivalent of a graduate school, but you didn't have to have a bachelor's degree, you just had to be 18 to apply. It's a very small, very international school. There weren't too many galleries in the place, but there were a lot of different artists who traveled through and the teachers were all very international. There's one interesting place, run by an Englishman who used to be the director of a gallery in London. He moved to Frankfurt, because his wife's from there and had kids. He had a very interesting space that shows a lot of young artists. It was sort of rundown and you know, improvisational. He was very well connected and had an interesting eye. I started showing there, and we still work together. That was sort of my beginning. I hadn't shown in the States at all. People in America came to learn about my work through the work I was doing while I was in Frankfurt. Then I came back to do a show at this gallery in LA. Then they asked me to be in the Biennial. Then I started showing with another guy and things started snowballing.