Christine Nguyen: The Nature of Art

by Kate Andrews | November 25, 2009

Christine Nguyen

Christine Nguyen

You’ve not seen work like that of Christine Nguyen. Much of her current body of work involves combining original photography, items from nature, and a salt crystalizing process that makes each piece organic and delivers unexpected and otherworldy results. She is a busy artist and solo exhibitions of her work have been featured at the Hammer Museum (Project), Michael Kohn Gallery, Andrewshire Gallery, and Sam Lee Gallery in Los Angeles. Group exhibitions include Laguna Beach Art Museum, Laguna Beach; 4-F Gallery, Los Angeles, PH Gallery, New York; San Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Sprueth Magers Projekte, Munich, Germany; and 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong. Christine currently resides in Los Angeles, California. She received her B.F.A from California State University, Long Beach and M.F.A from University of California, Irvine.

Here, professional photographer and curator Laina Karavani interviews Christine in a series of emails, Internet chats, and phone calls.

NoD: Hi Christine. Where are you from?

Christine Nguyen: California. I grew up in Northern California and currently reside in Los Angeles.

Work by Christine Nguyen

Work by Christine Nguyen

“My work draws upon the imagery of science, but it is not limited to technologies of the present. It imagines that the depths of the ocean reach into outer space, that through an organic prism, vision can fluctuate between the micro- and macroscopic.” – Christine Nguyen

NoD: Oh. Where north?

Christine Nguyen: I was born in Mountain View and then grew up in San Jose. My dad was a commercial fisherman. He fished mostly in the bay area during my childhood and then in Southern California in my late teens. I realized about 3 years ago a lot of my work is partially inspired by the ocean due to the things my dad would bring home and spending a lot time on his boat as a kid. I’ve always been fascinated in nature, the sciences, geology, the macro/ micro, and outer space. Lately, I’ve been into growing salt crystals and collecting minerals and crystals.

NoD: Do you have photographs from your childhood of you and your father near water?

Christine Nguyen: I’m not sure. That’s a good question. I don’t recall any off hand, but should look into it. I always wanted to go out fishing with him when I was a kid on his boat, but he wasn’t allowed to since it was a commercial fishing boat. He did take me out once to see a light house when I was in high school in San Pedro, CA. I was sooo excited. The sad part was that I ended up getting really seasick. It’s pretty ironic how I love the ocean!

NoD: You were recently selected as one of the Visions from the New California artist’s fellowship by the Alliance of Artists Communities. This involved a residency, yes?

Christine Nguyen: I received the fellowship last year. The residency was in the Marin Headlands which is located a few miles across the Golden Gate Bridge at the Headlands Center for the Arts for the month of October. It was amazing out there. The art center buildings are historic military buildings that have been converted and restored.

NoD: oh wow, Sausalito is really nice.

Christine Nguyen: Yes, it’s amazing. I had a huge studio to work in with natural lighting all to myself. The beach was 10 minutes away walking distance. The beaches in that area are gorgeous….sea mounds, multi-colored pebbles, shells, and beautiful cliff sides. There were hiking trails everywhere filled with wildlife and nature. The dears and owls were my favorite creatures to encounter. I was in paradise.

NoD: What did you create?

Christine Nguyen: During my residency, I salt crystallized various vegetation and collected things in the area while on my walks. To salt crystallize something I submerge the object in a super saturated saltwater solution to which the salt crystals form and grow on. I also made drawings on Mylar and took photographs of the surrounding landscapes.

Work by Christine Nguyen

Work by Christine Nguyen

NoD: In your artwork the sea & space really come together, it’s angelic.

Christine Nguyen: Thank you. I do see the two different environments very similar.

NoD: I’m looking at this photo-based piece of yours I really like… it has many layers…
These salt crystallize things are really pretty too. How do you present this work?

Work by Christine Nguyen - Humming of a Symphony

Work by Christine Nguyen – Humming of a Symphony

Christine Nguyen: The piece you are talking about is called “Humming of a Symphony”. It’s a photo-based piece that was actually partially inspired by my experience at the Headlands such as the multicolored background landscape.

In the past, I have put the salt crystallized stuff on multiple shelves. I think for my next project I am going to just have one long shelf. In fact, I need to make more for an up coming show in January.

NoD: What are you showing in January?

Christine Nguyen: I’ll be showing some crystallized plant stuff on a long shelf and a large photo-based piece. The exhibition is a group show in Kiel, Germany called “Doppler Effect” at the Kunsthalle zu Kiel.

In the summer of 2010, I will be having a solo show at the Huntington Beach Art Center. I will be salt crystallizing a row boat. I had an installation idea where the room is filled with crystallized things, sea shells, coral, and such and have the row boat in the middle of it. The working title for the installation is, “What the Ocean Left Behind”.

NoD: It’s very interesting how similar your photographic work and drawings are. Can you describe some of your processes?

Work by Christine Nguyen - Juxtapose

Work by Christine Nguyen – Juxtapose

Christine Nguyen: The photo-based work is a combination of drawing and a photographic process. “Negatives” are drawn on layers of Mylar, which are projected onto light-sensitive paper. The paper is developed in a color processor, creating a camera-less, photographic image. What you are seeing is a negative of the drawing. I use paints, inks, pens, pencils, and also grow salt crystals on the Mylar to create my drawings. When I know I am just making a drawing I use the same techniques with drawing and salt crystals, but think about the layers more and what will show through.

NoD: Where is your favorite place to travel?

Christine Nguyen: Anywhere that is in the woods, by and in the ocean, crystal caverns, and such. There’s so much out there that I haven’t seen and would like to see it all someday within my lifetime.

Work by Christine Nguyen

Work by Christine Nguyen

NoD: How you have been involved in SO MANY shows over the years?

Christine Nguyen: I just keep busy and continued to make work to exhibit them. Those shows lead to other exhibitions and also through referrals. You just never know who is going to see the work and where it might lead you to next.

Earlier this year, I did a residency at the Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I worked with two master printers for two weeks. And they made editions of 10 -12 of the attached the two lithographs. This came about by the Gallery Director, Arif Khan, whom came across my work through the Armand Hammer Museum website. At the end of year, the Hammer Museum will be publishing a book titled: Hammer projects 1999-2009 that will include my work. I’m sure the book will bring more exposure to my work.

Also in 2010, I have a residency at the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga, CA. I was nominated by John Souza, a Los Angeles based curator, to apply for this residency earlier in the year.

Christine Nguyen - home studio

Christine Nguyen’s home studio

NoD: Do you know what kind of work you will be producing during this residency?

Christine Nguyen: I plan to continue making drawings on Mylar and to continue to crystallize the local vegetation and materials in the area and incorporate them in my drawings perhaps. I also want to make large cyanotype prints (also known as sunprints). The cyanotype is an early 19th century photographic process. To make a cyanotype, you place objects on the coated sensitized paper and place it in the sun to be exposed and then you wash it under water to develop and fix the image. I have drawn and painted on the paper before coating it with the light sensitive cyanotype chemicals. I’ve included a sample image of it.

NoD: How did you begin working with this crystallization process?

Christine Nguyen: I’ve always been interested into crystals and minerals and looking at their formations. And then a friend of mine had sent me this Magical Forest kit that grew salt crystals on this cardboard cut outs of trees and mountains. I think it just got me thinking and such. I bought a crystal making kit which wasn’t what I was quite looking for. After doing research about growing crystals, I decided the salt crystal would work best for to experiment with since I think it relates to the ocean. The ocean being salty and all.

NoD: You are also a photographer for the Getty Research Institute in the Digital Services Department. What types of photos do you take?

Christine Nguyen: I take photographs of special collection materials that range from books, manuscripts, maps, engravings, and such that are for patrons and for in house projects that are archived in a database. I have also taken the Scholar portraits for a few years and have photographed events and lectures in the past.

You may review more of Christine Nguyen’s work here:

You may view interviewer Laina Karavani’s site here:


Designer and writer Kate Andrews was the original editor of Notes on Design blog, founded in 2007.


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