Phuong Nguyen’s small wonders
In recent years, artist Phuong Nguyen has learned the truth of a common proverb: Big things do indeed come in small packages.
After graduating from UVA in 2015, she struggled to find a studio that would allow her to paint and print on a large scale. So she changed her creative practice and started working small, drawing with pencil and paper and sculpting with fabric, embroidery thread, beads, and other craft materials.
The shift suits Nguyen’s work well. Small pieces require viewers to slow down, to come closer in order to appropriately understand the message, which, for Nguyen is quite personal and intimate: Her work, on view this month in a solo show, “Constructions,” at the New City Arts Welcome Gallery, explores identity and the trauma of immigration.
“In some ways, it’s hard for me to talk about my experiences,” says Nguyen, who came with her family to the U.S. from Vietnam in 2006. Instead, she says she lets her art do the talking by “making these things, and making them brightly colored and attracting attention, as an avatar…letting them stand for my narrative, it’s helpful and fun.”
Immigration offered her family more opportunities for a better future, but at a cost, says Nguyen. She didn’t speak English when she started middle school in the States, which often made her feel like an outsider. But art class put her at ease, made her feel confident and helped her communicate with her teachers, her peers, and even herself.
“Looking back on it, I realize the power of art to connect people, and [of art] as therapy. That’s really a powerful tool for me now, for processing,” she says.
Laughter helped her cope, too. After Nguyen spent months tying thousands of tiny French knots on fabric for one piece, she removed the embroidery from the hoop and tossed it over a nearby yogurt cup (which she uses to organize studio materials). “It cracked me up,” she says, and that’s when she knew the piece was complete, yogurt cup and all. “When you know, you just kind of know,” she adds, laughing.
First Fridays: February 7
The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative 209 Monticello Rd. “Face to Face: Portraits of Our Vibrant City,” an annual exhibition that uses the intimate process of portraiture to connect artists and community members who have different life experiences. 5:30-9:30pm.
Charlottesville Tango 208 E. Water St. “Stillness,” a show of pencil sketches by David Currier. 5-7:30pm.
Chroma Projects Inside Vault Virginia, Third Street SE. “That’s Pops’s Money,” an installation of fabricated time cards by Veronica Jackson that relates the story of Jackson’s grandmother’s silently devalued work as a homemaker. 5-7pm.
City Clay 700 Harris St. #104. “Out of the Round,” featuring ceramics by Dina Halme, Beth Bernatowicz, John Williamson, Lauren McQuiston, and Paula Whitmer. 5:30-8pm.
CitySpace 100 Fifth St. NE. “Americans Who Tell The Truth: Climate Change,” part of the Robert Shetterly portrait series. 5-7pm.
C’ville Arts Cooperative Gallery 118 E. Main St., Downtown Mall. “Drawing on Life with Laughter,” featuring the uplifting and sometimes humorous work of illustrator Jesse Bellavance. 6-8pm.
IX Art Park 522 Second St. SE. “Through the Looking Glass,” an immersive art experience featuring paintings, photography, and mixed- media pieces by artists such as Aaron Farrington, Joe Vena, Kataryzna Borek, Brielle DuFlon, Chicho Lorenzo, and others. 4-6pm.
McGuffey Art Center 201 Second St. NW. In the Sarah B. Smith Gallery, “Fiber Transformed,” featuring work from Mary Beth Bellah, Lotta Helleberg, Jill Jensen, Jill Kerttula, Lorie McCown, and Wrenn Slocum; in the Lower Hall Galleries, “Arts Beyond the Streets,” an exhibition by the Black Power Station collaborative from Makhanda, South Africa; in the Upper North Hall Gallery, a show by Nate Szarmach; and in the Upper South Hall Gallery, “Serenity in the Mountains,” a show by Alison Thomas. 5:30-7:30pm.
Milli Coffee Roasters 400 Preston Ave. #150. “Art for String Education,” featuring works by Jessie Meehan. 5-7pm.
Mudhouse Coffee 213 W. Main St. “Du Temps Perdu,” featuring paintings by Brian Geiger. 6-8pm.
New Dominion Bookshop 404 E. Main St., Downtown Mall. “A Tribute to Eloise,” an exhibition of works by the e salon watercolorists. 5-7pm.
Second Street Gallery 115 Second St. SE. In the Main Gallery, “By the Strength of Their Skin,” paintings by Regina Pilawuk Wilson, Mabel Juli, and Nonggirrnga Marawili, three of Australia’s most acclaimed women artists. In the Dové Gallery, “Nature Tells Its Own Story,” featuring paintings by Pakistani artist Tanya Minhas. 5:30-7:30pm
Spring Street Boutique 107 W. Main St., Downtown Mall. “Be the Bravest Version of Yourself,” featuring oil and canvas and printmaking works by Tomie Deng. 6-8pm.
Welcome Gallery 114 Third St. NE. “Constructions,” sculpture and works on paper exploring identity and the trauma of immigration, by Phuong Duyen Nguyen. 5-7:30pm.
WriterHouse 508 Dale Ave. “What’s Left,” sculpture by Richmond artist Kiel Posner. 5-7pm.
WVTF Radio IQ 216 W. Water St. “Forty Years—Forty Faces,” a series of photographs and written works by Glen McClure and Marshall McClure of folks who have received help from the Virginia Poverty Law Center. 5-7pm.
VMDO Architects 200 E. Market St. “A Colorful Perspective,” featuring watercolor, acrylic, oil, and digital design pieces by Julia Kwolyk. 5:30-7:30pm.
Other February shows
Albemarle County Circuit Court 501 E. Jefferson St. An exhibition of work by members of the Central Virginia Watercolor Guild.
Annie Gould Gallery 109 S. Main St., Gordonsville. Featuring work by Cecelia Schultz, Annie Waldrop, and Chuxin Zhang.
Buck Mountain Episcopal Church 4133 Earlysville Rd., Earlysville. A show of mixed media works on canvas by Paula Boyland.
Crozet Artisan Depot 5791 Three Notch’d Rd. Featuring the work of sculptural winged woodturnings and contemporary bowls by Mike Sorge. Reception February 8, 1-3pm.
Crozet Library 2020 Library Ave., Crozet. “Fraile Eden,” a show by underwater photo- grapher Gary Powell.
The Fralin Museum of Art at UVA 155 Rugby Rd. “Select Works from the Alan Groh-Buzz Miller Collection”; and “The Inside World: Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Memorial Poles,” and “Figures of Memory.”
Jefferson School African American Heritage Center 233 Fourth St. NW. “A Place Fit for Women,” part of the Robert Shetterly portrait series.
Les Yeux du Monde 841 Wolf Trap Rd. “Time,” featuring works by Ann Lyne, John McCarthy, and Ana Rendich.”
Shenandoah Valley Art Center 122 S. Wayne Ave., Waynesboro. An exhibition of work by mixed media artist Sigrid Eilertson.
Studio IX 969 Second St. SE. “Retrospective,” a show chronicling more than a decade of the “Every Day is a Holiday” calendars made annually by collaborative artists and lifelong friends Eliza Evans and Virginia Rieley.
Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church Unitarian-Universalist 717 Rugby Rd. “Nature,” featuring watercolor, pastel, and acrylic works by Billie Williams.
UVA Health System main hospital lobby, 1215 Lee St. “Expressions in Color,” featuring works by the Piedmont Pastelists.
UVA McIntire School of Commerce 125 Ruppel Dr. “Encrypted Metamorphosis,” a show of work in a variety of media by Deborah Davis and Craig Snodgrass.
Vitae Spirits Distillery 715 Henry Ave. “Go Wahoos,” a show of UVA-themed acrylic works by Matalie Deane.
Woodberry Forest School 898 Woodberry Forest Rd., Woodberry Forest. “in context.,” featuring paintings in acrylic on canvas and paper by Madeleine Rhondeau-Rhodes.
First Fridays is a monthly art event featuring exhibit openings at many area art galleries and exhibition venues. Several spaces offer receptions. To list an exhibit, email email@example.com.