The Vietnam-born Nhat Tran has been working with urushi, a Japanese lacquer, since 1998. Because many of the trees that supply the sap that is refined into this lacquer were destroyed by last year's tsunami in Japan, Tran is now also working in the medium of digital photography.
This show contains a mixture of both her digital and urushi work. In her urushi paintings, Tran builds up multiple layers of lacquer on both 2D and 3D surfaces; she waits for each layer to dry, then sands each layer off, as she goes. The patterns that emerge on these surfaces, while abstract, are often suggestive of the intricately complex patterns seen everywhere in nature.
The urushi on clayboard "Evolution of Desire," with its bright asymmetrical splashes of pink against a purple background mottled with gray, could suggest the earliest forms of life swimming in primordial seas. But then you see a strange pattern, like an amalgam of various oriental scripts, clustered in the bottom center of the composition. It so happens that the first forms of writing - pictograms - were based on forms found in nature before they evolved into the alphabets we use today.
"Petrification" is an example of her more recent work that she calls an "orchestral combination," based on digital photography and collage, as well as on patterns from her urushi paintings. If you look closely at this composition, you can just make out a pattern that approximates a human fetus against a computer-generated field of abstraction. Orchestral Collage: New Work by Nhat Tran is open through Feb. 24 at Gallery 924.
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