Fr. Martin Lam Nguyen C.S.C. ended his incredible display of artwork with a talk this past Friday, Nov. 3. Not only did he speak of his artwork, but also of God, of finding meaning in our lives, and of the hectic modern world.
The exhibition consisted of three solo works: “Mountain Waits,” “Lucie” and “Painting of a Social Network.” Each work combined elements of negative space, the power of ordinary life, and an advocation to slow down to meditate on meaning in our chaotic, information-filled lives.
“Lucie” was a conglomeration of 365 paintings of pictures taken in 2001-2002 of a small child named Lucie. The sheer number of paintings linked together on the wall overwhelms the viewer, but the viewer wants to know more, to seek out who this little girl is.
The detailed paintings allow the observer to contemplate their own childhood and ask where it went. Fr. Martin realizes that time flies by, so if we do not slow down to enjoy the moment, surely we will miss it.
“Mountain Waits” was another powerful visual conglomeration, consisting of 3000 slightly different pen and ink drawn pictures of the mountains in the Ha Long Bay in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam. To Fr. Martin, these mountains are significant because he saw them when he and his father were escaping Communism in 1979.
“Printing of a Social Network” consisted of hundreds of oil paintings of faces on canvas. Fr. Martin praised the ordinary person and wished to honor them by capturing them in their moment. While viewing this piece, one may wish to know more about these faces, just as Facebook or other social media sites entice us to do. Yet this information is not available to us, and that lack of information can be frightening.
Freshman Vincent Roberts said, “I thought it was interesting that Fr. Nguyen talked about the paintings in the images he made as moments within time, and that there was really no beginning or end to his artwork.”
“Art is very important because we are saved by beauty,” Fr. Martin said. “The making and the thinking — we all do a lot of thinking one way or another — but when you make, you relate to the material, you relate to something outside of you, because you have to relate to either fabric, or wood, and I think that is extremely human.”
While art has the capacity to connect the artist to the material, Fr. Martin also explained how art relates to the divine.
“It’s truly important as Christian Catholics to know that God, Jesus, used bread and wine to make of himself the divine, so in many ways I think that transforms the way we relate to materials,” Fr. Martin said. “We are the people who need space, light, incense and poinsettias for christmas.”
Fr. Martin was influenced by Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust surviving psychiatrist, as he spoke very highly of the ability of humans to choose their attitudes.
“[Frankl said that] we cannot change a lot of situations, but we are still in command of them, in absolute command of them,” Fr. Martin said. “I think that he says somewhere that till the end of your life you either succumb to resentment or embrace gratitude, and I think either way we have to choose one or the other, life cannot go on forever.”
The overarching theme between these works of art is that the viewer is overwhelmed at what exactly to look at, or at what exactly it all means. This is precisely the point. Fr. Martin wants us to slow down, to appreciate the moment, and embrace the fact that we will never have all the answers.