Lao American visual artist Sisavanh Phouthavong-Houghton was recently given the spotlight at Asians Doing Everything. Be sure to check them out as well as her breathtaking body of work at her website. I very much appreciate the stellar art she is creating, bringing a compelling sense of the abstract to the Lao expressive vocabulary.
I'm excited for her this month because she will be holding a solo show from Feb 25-March 25th 2017, The Legacies of War, at Tinney Contemporary Gallery, Nashville. Her Reception/Talk will be March 4th 6-9PM.
Sisavanh Phouthavong-Houghton is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro where she teaches advanced level painting courses.
She was born in Vientiane, Laos in 1976 and as I mentioned previously in 2015, I am intrigued to see where she takes her work compared to other visual artists from Vientiane like Vongduane Manvong and Sompaseuth Chounlamany. My fellow writer Catzie Vilaphonh and I are also from Vientiane, so, we shall see over time if there is a distinctive approach we each take, compared to Lao from other regions.
At the age of four, Sisavanh's family emigrated from Thailand to Winfield, Kansas. She attended the University of Kansas in Lawrence and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Painting in 1999.
Sisavanh continued her education at Southern Illinois University of Carbondale where 2003 she received her Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting and Drawing. She has exhibited her work in solo, juried, and invitational exhibitions throughout United States, Canada, and New Zealand.
Functionally, she began her professional arts journey at around much the same time I did, with her first solo exhibitions in 2002 at Vergette Gallery in Carbondale, Illinois, Smell of Art Through Culture, and Dri-Bottoms. This was approximately the same time I'd been reconnecting with the Lao community through the SatJaDham Lao Literary project in the Midwest.
Ten years ago in 2007 was a busy and pivotal year for me as I released my first full-length book, On The Other Side Of The Eye. Interestingly, it was also very busy year for her, including her solo exhibition Things That Suck, at the Joan Derryberry Art Gallery at Tennessee Technological University, in Cookeville, TN.
Her work had also been selected in 2007 for the exhibitions Ideal, at the Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery, and Rat Race, at the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center, Western Kentucky University. That same year she was part of the Four Person Exhibition at the Ruby Green Contemporary Art Center, E-Volution 2, at Dangenart Gallery, Undercurrent, at Vanderbilt University Law School, and Group 62901, a group exhibition at the Well Street Art Company in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Sisavanh resides in Woodbury, TN with her sculptor husband Jarrod Houghton, their two daughters Zoe and Ava, and two cats Mr. Peacock and Gwen. I was delighted to meet her in person for the very first time after so many years of studying and teaching her work during the National Lao American Writers Summit in San Diego in 2016. I feel her approach and technique are tremendously important during the Lao reconstruction if we are to fully enjoy and embrace a Laotian American Renaissance.
This new body of work of hers is inspired by the organization Legacies of War (legaciesofwar.org). Their mission statement: "is to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos and advocate for the clearance of unexploded bombs, to provide a space for healing the wounds of war, and to create greater hope for a future of peace."
As a refugee, the process of connecting and disconnecting with a place or community are abstracted ideas of migration as an immigrant. The collage and painting process is unpredictable and is an ongoing dialogue about assimilating and relocating into another culture and space.
Her work captures and embraces architecture and built environment in its state of flux. Teetering between realism and abstraction, she is folding space and time to connect with the fleeting world. To achieve a kaleidoscopic effect, she employs multiple viewpoints, rhythmic fragmentation, and strong color contrast to fuse both the contemporary and historical landscape elements into one.
I'm looking forward to seeing where her artistic vision takes her next.