About the Author: Bob Soppelsa serves as a Curator for the Art in Embassies Program.
Fifteen years ago, the United States normalized relations with Vietnam. The liaison office became a full-fledged embassy and an ambassador was dispatched to Hanoi. Today, the embassy continues to serve as a vital cultural link between the two countries. The current ambassador, Michael Michalak, requested Art in Embassies select works for the residence that would resonate with the local culture. The challenges included the limited wall space available in the beautifully preserved French colonial residence and limited dimensions for air freight going into Hanoi.
The solution was a collection of seven paintings, all by Christopher Cousins of California. They are rich in color, relatively small in size, and abstract, with elements that resemble calligraphy included in most of them.
Cousins' work is created purely by instinct and intuition. He begins his paintings by taking found materials -- such as twigs, leaves, string -- and attaching them to the canvas to create textural support underneath his oil painting. His works evoke an organic, naturally evolving, and perhaps chaotic environment; they are fields of action in which he struggles to perceive the transcendental.
Taken from nature but abstracted from it, quietly lyrical in line and color, and encouraging contemplation: all these qualities, common in southeast Asian art, have made Cousins' paintings a success with audiences in Hanoi.