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Vielmetter Los Angeles
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Tâm Văn Trần at Vielmetter Gallery


Vielmetter Los Angeles is pleased to announce Primordial Sounds of the Avatar, Tâm Văn Trần’s solo exhibition with the gallery, featuring artworks that explore a unique alignment of cosmological revelations through paintings, ceramics, sculptures, and works on paper.

Trần creates intricately colored and textured works that fuse primordial-futuristic mythologies with botanical and oceanic content. These complex references orbit through his practice and are reinforced by his material explorations and cartoon and science fiction overtones. For this exhibition, Trần presents paintings on canvas that function as stitched zines with paper pages; and sculptures including masks, large ceramic vessels and smaller vases with upside-down handles on glazed ready-made bricks.

With this new work, Trần continues his exploration of painting and its sculptural possibilities by evoking the painting’s history of using thick swathes of oil to evoke energy and emotive possibilities. With drips, pours, and scumbling effects, he uses ceramic glazes of scroll-like imagery on vases, sculptures, and on his paintings on canvas. Trần employs both painting’s improvisational techniques to manipulate the thickness of glazes and ceramic’s vitrification process to achieve drips and wet-on-wet effects.

Sited in an expansive and lush indoor-outdoor studio, Trần’s large collection of cactuses and California native plants provides inspiration in colors, forms, and materials. The white powdery coating on such native succulents as the Dudleya Brittonii resonates with the pastel tones of the pre-fire dry glazes. Trần also uses the ephemeral processes of weathering, fading, fermentation, and oxidization to allow nature’s processes to contribute to the completion of his works, particularly on the clay paintings and drawings on canvas. He carefully considers the cycles of the ceramic process—from the wet terra-cotta clay, to the dry glazed vessels before being fired, and the final vitrification through high heat.

In the painting diptychs, Trần uses raw red clay on both paper and canvas to generate evocative, iron oxide “cave” drawings that traverse past, present, and future. Using rolled thin slabs of clay, he cuts images of sea creatures directly on the paintings. The resulting incision creates outline shadows which, when fired, are shattered, then reattached to the canvases with silver acrylic paint. These clay figures reference the practice of deity generation in Indian Tantric practices and they evoke regenerative possibilities of immigrants transforming into avatars with limitless powers. By incorporating zippers into the large stitched-zine paintings, Trần’s terra-cotta abstractions, with egg-shaped ocean-ready coracles, or vessels, link past technological inventions with those of the future.

Three large ceramic Divination Jars, each embellished with two individual I Ching hexagrams, represent the I Ching’s “answers” to Trần’s “question” for each vase. Hand-built from slabs of clay, the glazed colored free-standing mask and elegant smaller vases suggest small family groupings afloat on glazed bricks, “vehicles for travel,” as the artist calls them. The mask forms contain protective masculine energy, while the vases with long sinuous limbs exude protective feminine energy, evoking both traveling stages and slow-moving ships.

Reveries about vulnerability and isolation meander through Trần’s abstracted imagery—a four-fingered hand caught in the sharply pointed teeth of long-snouted marine creatures, a group of minute vessels huddle together on a boat like-glazed brick sculpture while guarded over by a protective alien entity, and apparitions of protective spirits transform into glowing glazed-encrusted two-handled vases. The speckled profusion of colors mirrors the reflections of light bouncing off turbulent waves of the moving ocean. The enigmatic scenes evoke a state of selfless vulnerability in the face of one’s desire to concretely understand a sublime experience, such as the unfathomable depth and vastness of the sea. Trần’s own oceanic emigration voyage from Vietnam as a young child, alone with his siblings, and later, his encounters with deep sea swimming in Santa Monica during the Covid pandemic, connect fundamentally to vulnerabilities of our precarious human bodies. Ultimately, Trần contemplates multiple dualities of existence and the regenerative powers of avatar reveries—the simultaneous pulse of past and present, fear and desire, order and chaos—rippling and floating through his ceramic universe.

Photo: Tâm Văn Trần, installation view. Image courtesy of Vielmetter Gallery. Photo: Jeff McLane.