Cuong Nguyen’s ability to highlight the beauty in the world around him is something that informs his art as well as his perspective. One might say that he represents the opposite of the tortured artist cliché: despite the fact that his formative years in Vietnam were characterized by significant hardship, his sometimes romantic and sometimes mysterious portraits and still life paintings reflect his positive outlook and determination to persevere.
Growing up in poverty after the fall of Saigon, Cuong’s greatest pleasure was finding time to draw. At a young age, he earned extra money for his family by doing street portraits, and he was accepted to Saigon’s Academy of Art while in high school. Even as a child, Cuong was fascinated by the human face, and his single-minded practice of drawing eyes and other features rewards us today with portraits that have a spark of life to them.
His study at the Academy of Art in Saigon was interrupted when he had the opportunity to emigrate to the U.S. in 1991, and the challenge of establishing himself within a new country and culture temporarily distracted him from his love of fine art. He earned a degree in illustration from San Jose State University and established a successful career as an icon designer with a prominent Silicon Valley Web company.
Ultimately, though, his passion for fine art resurfaced. It began first as a new hobby—participating as an artist at public street painting festivals, creating ephemeral artworks as large as 16′ x 24′. Cuong soon established a reputation for painting amazingly lifelike portaits on asphalt, and he was invited to participate in festivals around the world. More importantly, though, this activity brought him back to painting, and he was soon back in his studio endlessly refining his technique with more traditional media.
Cuong is a member of the Oil Painters of America and the International Guild of Realism, as well as having been awarded the distinction of Distinguished Pastellist with the Pastel Society of the West Coast. His work has appeared at the Triton Museum in Santa Clara, California, and the Haggin Museum in Stockton, California, as well as in both national and international competitions exhibiting from coast to coast.
Today, Cuong works in both oil paints and pastels, though casual viewers may at first have trouble distinguishing the two media in Cuong’s hands. Though he almost never blends his strokes, Cuong achieves a level of detail and smoothness of gradations that is unusual in pastel paintings. In oils, he aims for a realism that never crosses the line to photographic, so that the viewer always has a sense for how the image was formed from its raw materials . Regardless of media, however, Cuong Nguyen’s paintings always reveal a fundamentally optimistic view of the world and a sense of wonder towards the beauty that surrounds us.