In the Shadow of a Vessel
Lien Truong’s recent paintings layer different times. Situated between the past and the future, they represent significant events in American history, pointing to an ambiguous present that conflates defiance with prejudice and moral risk. Alluding to America’s legacy of perpetual war, Truong melds a soft, painterly palette with references to symbols that overflow with historical meaning.
Part of Truong’s technique involves reference to historic Asian silk painting. Patterns of cloth seem to absorb the lineage of violence in the collective American psyche. In a work like “A Delicate History between the Harpy and an Angel” (2019) fabrics are set vertically, and between them cartoon nooses have been interposed. These modernized cartoon nooses emotively comment on the silk prepared and painted by the artist, in cropped, dark, figurative narrations. In “The Neurosis of Blood and Stone” (2019) strips of fabric seem to burst from the belly of a severed horse—a beast of burden too often used in wars. In both paintings, the physicality of the body becomes a ghost-like abstraction.
Vessels, like any other object that contains space within itself, can be broken; they can spill over. In the Shadow of a Vessel refers to, on the one hand, objects, figures, and persons ravaged by war and other affronts to personal autonomy. On the other hand, the paintings themselves are vessels, setting in relief historical indignities suffered by individuals at the hands of the state. In this latter sense, the paintings ensheath specific histories along with a retroactive desire for justice. The vessels on view give rhythm and shape to people and places whose histories have been all but erased.