So far, nothing sounds new. Countless painters have spent centuries doing much of the same. But Tuan shouldn’t be lumped in with many of the male artists of those centuries, who ogled naked female models and perpetuated patriarchal power relations.
Tuan’s chirpy images of teasing ladies are not, thankfully, the soft porn that other artists are using with lame excuses about commenting on body image issues and the ravages of an over-advertised society. Tuan has painted women for a good part of his trajectory as an artist, but he does not come across as a pervert, or even as a man with only one thing on his mind.
Tuan’s women have a self-assurance about them, they have power. Not the power of twerking someone into a jelly-like state. They have the power of Manet’s Olympia, of not giving a hoot about being condemned or judged by the person looking at them. And these ladies certainly do know they are the object of a gaze, and they enjoy it and play with it, as confident in themselves as a consenting adult should be. Except for one or two who seem to be enjoying their own naughty company in private.
The Thin Red Line
The red thread zigzags across the paintings, weaving a common theme through the show. It ties up the exhibition beautifully. Lacy patterns are also a repetitive motif, well balanced by the trendy polka dot print on some underwear items. The patterns, the red ribbon and the prostrate relaxation may remind some viewers of shunga — Japanese erotic prints. Bui Tien Tuan’s compositions are generally more contemporary, however. One or two compostions seem borrowed from Degas or Schiele, but the diagonal cuts and distant corner placements of some figures are more akin to cinematic angles.
Room two of the gallery is devoted to female singers, vocalists who work in cabaret, jazzing up the confetti-infested air. These paintings are busier, like nightclubs. What they lack in intimacy is made up by effervescence.
Ink and watercolour on traditional Vietnamese do paper are a bit of a new start for Bui Tien Tuan, who is a trained silk painter. He uses both mediums well, making the most of their delicate tactile quality. The quirky drawings, even cartoonish at times, add a humourous twinkle to what might otherwise be a bit too sugary an image. — Cristina Nualart
The Craig Thomas Gallery is at 27i Tran Nhat Duat, Q1