Minnesota ( StarTribune): An abandoned house — its siding falling off, revealing raw, worn wooden planks — stands in the middle of a grassy field. In the distance is a lone tree and a set of wagon wheels, positioned as if they’re resting. If you’ve ever driven through a rural Midwestern landscape, this is a familiar scene, and one that artist Teo Nguyen gracefully captures in 15 large-scale, photorealistic paintings.
“I continue to be in awe with the vast beauty of the Middle West landscapes,” he said, “how humans interact with the natural environment, how we cultivate and interact with our surroundings.”
The serenity of these landscapes inspires him on a deeply spiritual level.
His exhibition “Teo Nguyen: A Reflection on Being,” currently on view at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s Reedy Gallery, offers visitors of slice of that serenity. The paintings range from quiet winter scenes, with prairies and barns gently dusted in snow, to a flat landscape decorated only by a single red barn in the distance.
Curator Wendy DePaolis said Nguyen is attracted to subjects that look deceptively simple.
“He makes otherwise well-worn scenes of rural farms and prairies into something contemporary,” she said. “The infinite extensions of the landscapes are held captive in these images, distilling vast, expansive distances into mesmerizing artworks.”
These paintings by Nguyen, who grew up in war-torn Vietnam and arrived in the United States at age 16, suggest the opposite of a chaotic environment.
“I imagine this abundance of peace for Vietnam,” he said of his landscapes.
The spiritual practice of animism (that plants, inanimate objects and natural phenomena have souls) also guides Nguyen’s work. In his landscape series, he expresses his reverence for nature, and the idea that the land holds stories of lives and spirits that have passed through as well as those that remain.
His work is held in collections at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Minnesota Museum of American Art, and the Walker Art Center, among others.