Telling Dreams

Telling Dreams


Gateless Dream, 2007

del Mano Gallery
Binh Pho
August 2-30, 2008

For close to 15 years, the Vietnamese-American artist Binh Pho has been creating singular turned and pierced wood vessels vividly painted with images that have symbolic or narrative import. Since 2000, he has introduced elements that reflect his compelling biography. Pho, who now lives with his family outside Chicago, was born in 1955 in Saigon and grew up there during the Vietnam War. He was in college studying architecture and art when Saigon fell, in 1975, and just missed being airlifted out of Vietnam on the last helicopter from the American Embassy. He spent time in a Communist "re-education" camp and made several attempts to escape Vietnam by boat, finally succeeding in 1978, reaching a Malaysian island and eventually reuniting with his family in St. Louis, Missouri in 1979.

Pho started working with wood as a hobby in 1987, acquiring a lathe several years later as he was drawn into the field by such figures as John Jordan, Leonard "Fletcher" Hartline (from whom he took a course), Dale Stubbs and others. Among the distinctive aspects of his work, in addition to the extremely thin walls that he achieves on the lathe, are his application of acrylic paints (or dyes and gold leaf) in a layered process often involving airbrushing, and his use of piercing to achieve negative space.

"I love to bring the beauty of nature and hand techniques together to create character and soul in a piece," Pho says. There are certain recurring images, such as butterflies (referring to being imprisoned), dragonflies (symbolizing helicopters), cityscapes (relating to the experience of cities) and peacock feathers (representing dreams). Indeed, much of Pho's recent works, such as Realm of Dream 1, containing these images, are a dreamlike amalgam. "When a dream comes to us while we're sleeping," Pho says, "it is often forgotten quickly upon awakening-but when a dream was created while awake, it seems real and possible to achieve. Why do we call both experiences a dream? Which one is a dream and which one is real, or are they reflections of each other."

How Pho's life story intersects with his art is the subject of River of Destiny: The Life and Work of Binh Pho, by Kevin Wallace, published by the Long Beach Museum of Art to accompany an exhibition of Pho's work there in 2006-7.