Tran Van Thao’s new paintings are joyful celebrations of life. With their intuitive marks and colorful palette, the works evoke childhood fancy. Like in Thao’s previous work, crosses and numbers are once again presented as abstract markers, perhaps signifying a human presence. Thao paints, scrapes, constructs, scratches; he challenges the notion of the flat picture plane. Canvas is used not only as a painting support, but also as a medium (cut and folded) that engages with the paint.
In his book on abstraction, Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art since Pollock, the late Kirk Varnedoe, former chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, described abstraction as a search, but not for meaning, so much as for a temporary degree of meaninglessness. “This is found,” he writes, “not in exotic realms but rather on the edges of banality, familiarity, and the man-made world.” The everyday is where life takes place. If Thao’s crayon marks, brushy dabs and layers of paper pulp signify anything, it is that our daily life is important. This goes for all the color changes, like the soft violet over vibrant parrot green, or the primaries that peep through the thick layers of white.
There is joy in this new work, and it is probably a by-product of the artist’s relationship with his young son. The paintings are like the endless afternoons of early childhood, filled with sunlight and sleepy excitement. Here is the edge of familiarity that Varnedoe writes about. Thao seems to have discovered an eternal present and his works burst forth with life.