Phong H. Bui_ Symphonies and Meditations at Craig F. Starr Gallery

Phong H. Bui, Symphony #1 (for Meyer and Lilian Schapiro), 2022. Portraits: pencil on paper. Meditation Work: gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper. Put in: 50.5 by 105.5 inches total. Photograph: Dan Bradica. Courtesy of the artist and Craig F. Starr Gallery.

Phong H. Bui: Symphonies and Meditations

Craig F. Starr Gallery, New York

November 3, 2022 via February 28, 2023

By RAPHY SARKISSIAN, February 2023

Since 2008 Phong H. Bui has been engaged in a seminal follow of portraiture by translating photographic photos into arresting likenesses delineated by pencil on paper. Earlier drawings of such notables of the artwork world as Dore Ashton, Cai Guo-Qiang, Concord Korine, Barbara Novak, David Novros, Robert Rauschenberg, Pipilotti Rist, Jerry Saltz, Richard Shiff, Nancy Spero, Ena Swansea and Terry Winters had been executed on par with these of luminaries throughout the domains of music, dance, literature, movie and past. Bui’s 2008 portrayals of Malian percussionist Baye Kouyaté, writer and memoirist Sean Wilsey, documentary photographer Susan Meiselas and former US president Barack Obama unwaveringly attest to a praxis that extends throughout the humanities, tradition, humanities and politics. Printed upon the pages of The Brooklyn Rail journal in tandem with interviews, in addition to printed on-line, the mechanically and digitally reproduced graphic portraits of Bui have come to commendably illuminate texts.

Phong H. Bui: Symphonies and Meditations, on view at Craig F. Starr Gallery, presents a choice of such drawings of Bui, executed since 2009, although now they’ve been framed and mounted on gallery partitions inside matrices and coordinated with suites of just lately rendered summary folios of seismographic traces, collectively known as “meditation work.” Symphony #1 (for Meyer and Lilian Schapiro) displays a riveting juxtaposition of the polarities of resemblance and abstraction, whereby a set of eighteen fascinating depictions of dignitaries within the arts operates as a way of framing a row of six nonmimetic traces of pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper. Embodying the resemblance and corporeality of a given sitter via beautiful draftsmanship, visages right here body gestural abstractions, whereby partly systematic compositions of line segments in shades of orange and white on darkish grounds without delay conform to the grid’s construction and contravene it.

Phong H. Bui, Julie Mehretu, 2019 (element). In of Symphony #1 (for Meyer and Lillian Schapiro). Photograph: Dan Bradica. Courtesy of the artist and Craig F. Starr Gallery.

Within the above matrix of Bui, we encounter hanging depictions of Nayland Blake, Jason Moran, Julie Mehretu, Mel Chin (allegorized via the imagery of a bison and hare in a tête-à-tête), Roxy Paine, Yoko Ono, Sean Scully, Jenny Saville, Hito Steyerl, Charles Stein, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Gregg Bordowitz, Mickalene Thomas, Jasper Johns, Teresita Fernandez, Olivier Berggruen, Mariko Mori and Robert Gober. Linear likenesses of those disciples of the artwork world encompass six cases of painterly abstraction. Although every one of many intricate portrayals of those practitioners might transport our notion towards a given aesthetic pathway demarcated by a person praxis, it’s the apposition of semblance and nonrepresentation via which this formalist duality of Bui unfolds a set of discursive potentialities between such parameters as: images and drawing, mimesis and abstraction, linearity and painterliness, tradition and society.

One crucial query {that a} given portrait of Bui raises is the extent to which Roland Barthes’s ideas of the studium (cultural interpretation) and punctum (personally touching, poignant element) of the {photograph} might endure inside a drawing primarily based on that major picture. “Nothing stunning, then, if typically, regardless of its readability, the punctum needs to be revealed solely after the actual fact, when the {photograph} is not in entrance of me and I believe again on it,” claims Barthes.1

By way of its title, Symphony #1 (for Meyer and Lilian Schapiro) comes forth as an emblematic self-portrait, an allegory of the artist’s gratefulness to Meyer Schapiro, one of the crucial outstanding artwork historians of the 20th century, and his spouse Dr. Lillian Milgram Schapiro, about whom Bui has stated, “If it wasn’t for my relationship with Meyer and Lillian Schapiro, who had adopted me as their surrogate Jewish grandson, I wouldn’t have had the imaginative and prescient and the stamina to work to form and maintain the Rail since its founding in October 2000.”2

Phong H. Bui, Symphony #2 (for Agnes Gund), 2022. Portraits: pencil on paper. Meditation Work: gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper. Put in: 50.5 by 105.5 inches total. Photograph: Dan Bradica. Courtesy of the artist and Craig F. Starr Gallery.

Devoted to famend philanthropist and humanities patron Agnes Gund, Symphony #2 (for Agnes Gund) unfolds a matrix inside which six “meditation work” are framed by credible likenesses of Maurizio Cattelan, Jeffrey Gibson, Penny Arcade, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Hans Haacke (face shielded by a digital camera), Petah Coyne, Philip Taaffe, Tamara Gonzales, Tauba Auerbach, Sanford Biggers, Henry Threadgill, Nancy Princenthal, Ali Banisadr, Agnes Gund, John Elderfield, Louis Osmosis, Tiona Nekkia McClodden and Invoice Jensen. Although linearity prevails Bui’s portrayals of the sitters inside this grid, the drawings of Sanford Biggers and John Elderfield stand out via half-lit, tenebristic remedy of the faces.

Phong H. Bui, Agnes Gund, 2009. Pencil on paper, 16.5 by 12.75 inches, framed. In Symphony #2 (for Agnes Gund). Photograph: Dan Bradica. Courtesy of the artist and Craig F. Starr Gallery.

To tread upon the formalist realm of this association of Bui brings to thoughts Heinrich Wölfflin’s all-too-familiar ideas of analyzing Renaissance and Baroque kinds, characterizing the previous as “linear” and the latter as “painterly.” Concerning two drawings of feminine nudes by Dürer and Rembrandt, Wölfflin notes, “The coherent, constant, steady contour of the sixteenth century has been changed by the damaged line of the painterly fashion” of the seventeenth century.3 In Symphony #2 (for Agnes Gund), extremely draftsmanly portraits encompass nonfigurative, calligraphic traces of traces. In flip, resemblance and abstraction, now paired, evoke the Hegelian dialectic of historic battle, decision and supersession, although Bui has retained a way of distinction within the polarities inside the entire.

Phong H. Bui, Symphony #3 (for Sir Isaiah Berlin), 2022. Portraits: pencil on paper. Meditation Work: gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper. Put in: 50.5 by 65.75 inches total. Photograph: Dan Bradica. Courtesy of the artist and Craig F. Starr Gallery.

Twelve pencil portraits enfold a trilogy of abstractions in Symphony #3 (for Sir Isaiah Berlin), whereby the viewer encounters Bui’s compelling representations of Alanna Heiss, James Hyde, Theaster Gates, Lucy Raven (with sun shades), Joe Zucker, Chitra Ganesh, De Wain Valentine, David Lynch, Elisa Sighicelli, Felix Bernstein & Gabe Rubin (pictorially conjoined), Adriana Varejao and Martha Wilson. The energetic brushstrokes of Meditation Portray #1214, Meditation Portray #1215 and Meditation Portray #1216 right here counterpoise the meticulously crafted drawings of 13 visionaries.

Phong H. Bui, Meditation Portray #1214, 2021. Gouache, watercolor, and pencil on paper, 16.5 by 12.75 inches, framed. In Symphony #3 (for Sir Isaiah Berlin). Photograph: Dan Bradica. Courtesy of the artist and Craig F. Starr Gallery.

Referring to the structural polarities throughout the follow of Bui, Charles Duncan displays in his revealing essay “Democratic Visages,” printed within the gallery’s good-looking, fully-illustrated catalogue: “Harmonization of those polarities is on the coronary heart of the portrait drawings and meditation work of Phong Bui—the instantaneous evolves into period; hyperrealism is balanced by diffusion; consideration to the person coalesces into collective that means. The result’s an enchanting physique of labor.”4

Phong H. Bui, Meditation Drawing Group #2 (for Elizabeth Baker), 2022. 5 pencil-on-paper drawings, 65.75 by 16.5 inches total. Photograph: Dan Bradica. Courtesy of the artist and Craig F. Starr Gallery.

Born in Huê, Vietnam, Bui relocated to Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1980. “I’ve slowly discovered the way to respect the unlikely pictorial unity that mediates between two polar opposites—the impersonal versus the private—which exactly is my very own perpetual feeling of being dislocated,” Bui explains. “I’ll without end be an individual with one foot nonetheless rooted within the outdated nation, particularly as I’m rising older than I used to be in my twenties or thirties, whereas the opposite foot is skating on skinny ice of the brand new nation.”5

Phong H. Bui: Symphonies and Meditations reminds us powerfully of the probabilities—if not inevitable requirements (and pleasures)—of incorporating seemingly incongruent strands right into a cohesive complete, of orchestrating cause and instinct, the place the rational quintessence of Apollo and the primordial volatility of Dionysus coexist. WM


1. Roland Barthes, Digicam Lucida: Reflections of Pictures (1980), trans. Richard Howard (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981), p. 53.

2. Phong H. Bui, “Grateful to all issues previous. Service for all issues current. Embrace of all issues future,” The Brooklyn Rail (November 2016), p. 9.

3. Heinrich Wölfflin, Ideas of Artwork Historical past: The Downside of the Growth of Fashion in Early Trendy Artwork (1915), trans. Jonathan Blower (CA: The Getty Analysis Institute, 2015), p. 116.

4. Charles Duncan, “Democratic Visages: Portrait Drawings and Meditation Work of Phong Bui,” in Phong H. Bui: Symphonies and Meditations (New York: Craig F. Starr Gallery, 2022).

5. Phong H. Bui, quoted in Duncan.