By Philip Genochio
Welcome to a new monthly art column that aims to shine a light on Saigon’s blossoming art scene. As a six-year resident of the city – and long time fan of AsiaLife – I’m delighted to be writing not just about art in general but, more specifically, focusing on the practitioners who are bringing a much needed creative freshness to the city.
Of course, there’s a never a bad time for art – to take it in, to be inspired, to open eyes and minds to new possibilities and, given Ho Chi Minh City’s turbulent past, it would be a stretch to say the city needs art more than ever. However, with many negative aspects to the city at the moment – lost heritage, worsening pollution, development more focused on cents than sense – art has a huge part to play in reminding us of the positivity that exists throughout the city.
In terms of art, a lot of this positivity is being driven by artists, designers, creators and curators who are largely unheralded but deserve merit for following their paths to produce work that stimulates and engages audiences. One such artist is Laurent Judge, a Frenchman who’s been resident in the city since 2011.
With work on display at the Fine Arts Museum, as well as work previously shown at Decibel and the Park Hyatt, Laurent continues to keep himself busy with a short but successful exhibition ending recently at Chelsea Café on Le Thanh Ton, and a show with new work due to open later this month at Rouge Zig-Zag, his own gallery/studio on Pasteur Street.
Catching Laurent during some down time, we were able to talk about his work and life in Saigon. I assumed Laurent had moved to Saigon to seek fresh inspiration or perhaps a change of perspective. Not so, he tells me. The attraction of Ho Chi Minh City for Laurent is that it allows him to continue with his style. “For me, I see Saigon the same as other cities around the world”, he says. “I don’t need to be a different person or artist – I can do the work I want to do, in the way I want to do it, without feeling I have to respond to a local aesthetic. I feel comfortable here. And that lets me paint in the way I want to paint.”
It’s an interesting sign of Saigon’s evolution that the city can be looked upon as a global city that offers the same platform to create as say, New York or Paris. Which brings us to Laurent’s background in France and his first forays into the world of art. His first inspiration is perhaps a surprising one. “I was 6 or 7 years old when I saw posters for the World Cup in Spain. They were by Joan Miro, and the strong bold colours spoke to me immediately. Even though I was so young I understood that art could be accessible and not complicated.” From there, Laurent attended an informal art school and started out on a path that led to exhibitions and graffiti collaborations in Paris via a stint in the French military and a even a spell at Disneyland Paris (or EuroDisney, as it was called back then).
Along the way, Laurent’s inspirations have taken in a wide range of artists and sources, including the art nouveau work of English artist Aubrey Beardsley; album art of musicians such as Frank Zappa, Led Zeppelin and The Residents; the films of David Lynch and Sergio Leone; and even the archeological architecture of ancient South American civilisations. Closer to home, and bringing things in to the current day, Laurent enjoys the varied work of Vietnamese artist Truc-Anh, who has established himself as one of the country’s leading young talents.
Like many of us, Laurent has watched the local scene develop in recent years and feels the arrival of venues such as Salon Saigon and The Factory Contemporary Arts Centre – each bringing art to locals and visitors in different ways – marks a shift in attitudes.
In particular, Laurent hopes to see The Factory continue to flourish. “I think they are well placed to display work from recogonised international artists. If that were to happen it would really help to take Ho Chi Minh City to another level in the eyes of the art world.”
As an artist with a background in graffiti, Laurent’s excited by the growth and acceptance of street art in the city. “Art should be accessible, and graffiti is such an easy and affordable way to bring art to a wider audience. And, of course, it gets kids interested, which so important”. He continues, “From my time lecturing here in universities I would say the art being taught is too focused on technical aspects. I’d love to see the next generation of artists being shown a more varied selection of art and artists. A wider base of influence can only help to inspire the next generation of artists to broaden their skills and create compelling, stimulating art”
Lays canvas on floor and sketches his ideas out from above, moving around the canvas so that his perspective is ever changing and evolving. Allows him to constantly questioning the work, looking at new spaces, new lines, working on different areas of composition. This process of adding ideas, revisiting points, and enhancing with further symbolism draws a direct comparison with Ho Chi Minh City. Always something new to be discovered, an addition to made here and there, things never staying the same for long.
It’s a process that means Laurent often never completely finishes a work until it’s sold. On his studio wall hangs a piece that was first painted 10 years ago but has been continually tweaked and adapted as the artist re-visits the piece. It’s a pleasingly stark contrast to so much art today that exists in a world of instant gratification, where the ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons are omnipresent.
This feeling of never settling for what has been, not accepting something is complete, has a certain synergy with Saigon, and is perhaps why Laurent is so comfortable painting here. Ho Chi Minh City doesn’t want to dwell on the past; it barely lives in the now – it’s always looking forward. Changes are made; some things disappear, some things remain, other things are added. Is this good? Is this bad? Like art, it’s subjective of course so gives rise to discussion, debate and further opinion, which – like Laurent’s art – we’d be worse off without.
To learn more about Laurent and to see some of his work, visit www.artloftasia.com/artists/laurent-judge. You can follow him on Facebook via fb.com/laurentjudge, or contact him directly via firstname.lastname@example.org