Good Weekend Art Column

Savandhary Vongpoothorn – Niagara Galleries, Melbourne

Published September 15, 2020
Savandhary Vongpoothorn, 'Broken Sutra (Naga Paths)' (2019)

Artist: Savandhary Vongpoothorn

Lives: Ainslie, Canberra.

Age: 49

Represented by: Niagara Galleries, Melbourne (Martin Browne Contemporary, Sydney)

Her thing: Abstract paintings informed by Buddhist traditions, combining minimalist geometry and calligraphy.

Our take. Savandhary Vongpoothorn was eight years old when she and her family arrived in Australia as refugees from war-torn Laos. Vongpoorthorn quickly adapted to her new surroundings in the suburbs of Sydney, but has always maintained a strong attachment to her Lao heritage.

During her student years Vongpoothorn experimented with many different styles and materials, being influenced by the Australian landscape, American Minimalism, and the Buddhist philosophy she absorbed at home. An impressive mid-career survey held at the Drill Hall in Canberra last year, revealed an artist who has never stopped experimenting, while staying true to those early, fundamental themes.

In the Broken Sutras, which provide the title for this exhibition, Vongpoothorn combines a severe geometry with a mass of free-flowing calligraphic marks based on the Pali script used in Laos. The sutras are “broken” because they are a response to a world out of joint, but they may also be seen as a reflection of her own cross-cultural status, as an Asian-Australian suspended between two worlds. A series of rubbings made at the Nigatsu-dō temple in Nara are a collaboration with Japanese poet, Noriko Tanaka, who has added her calligraphy to each piece.

Alongside Vongpoothorn’s paintings Niagara is also featuring large-scale appliqué works by Tcheu Siong, a Hmong artist from Luang Prabang. The abstract Buddhist overtones of Vongpoothorn’s pictures are complemented by Tcheu Siong’s animism, which features an extraordinary cast of spirits and ancestor figures.


Can I afford it?

The most expensive work in the show, at $75,000, is the large acrylic painting, Broken Sutra (Naga Paths) (180cm by 300cm). This equals the record price for Vongpoothorn’s work, but it is a museum-quality piece that can only accumulate value. The least expensive at $4,000 each are three multimedia works, Broken Sutra IV, V, VI (41cm by 41.5 cm). These are lino prints on woven rice paper that have been reworked in acrylic.


Where can I have a squiz?

Niagara Galleries, 245 Punt Road, Richmond, Melbourne.

Until 4 -29 February, 2020.


Published in The Good Weekend, Sydney Morning Herald, 22 February, 2020