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Craft Center Gallery

Last Modified: January 07, 2015


Davis, CA- January 12, 2015 – UC Davis Craft Center Gallery presents “Impromptu,” the solo exhibition of flame working instructor, Kim Nguyen, January 12 – February 4. Opening reception will be held on Friday, January 30th from 6-8 p.m. at the gallery 530-752-1475. Kim Nguyen will be at the reception to answer questions.

Kim Nguyen's preferred way of playing as a pianist is improvising with others, especially in free improvisation, playing off of each other with minimal or no preset structure. She has made lithographs and textile sculptures based on her favorite musical piece before, but this show is a more abstract nod to her love of improvisation.

For these pieces, she started with the wood: fragments of redwood burl discarded by a wood sculptor who does bigger sculptures; pieces of walnut harvested from a storm-felled tree; branches picked up from the ground in varying states of decay. In working with this wood, she played off the elements that make it so different from straight-grained factory-farmed wood purchased at a lumberyard. Knot holes and insect damage -- technically “defects”-- are to her as beautiful as the more lauded burl figure caused by stresses on the tree, such as physical damage and disease. She picked out sawdust left by insects to highlight their contribution, left some saw marks from the cuts made by the woodworker removing this excess wood from his sculpture and drew inspiration from the wood’s found contours in further carving and shaping it.

Kim’s usual specialty in flame working is tight control. She makes miniature animal sculptures on glass knitting needles. She used this precision for the glass insects. However, in the spirit of improvisation more suitable to this wood, she wanted to let the majority of the glass move the way it wanted in the flame. Gravity acting on the molten glass and even the blowing of the flame helped create the final shapes. Instead of precise representations, repetitive elements inspired by the wood bring structure to these pieces, just as repetitive motifs can help create structure and beauty within musical free improvisation.

An impromptu is a short musical composition with elements of improvisation. One of the few pieces Kim still remembers from her classical music playing days is Franz Schubert’s Impromptu in E-flat Major. She played it in high school and it was so fun and sparkly that she loved it though had no idea what an impromptu was; at that point she could happily sight-read written music, but improvising was terrifying. Now she loves to improvise musically and has lost much of her sight-reading skill. 

Says Kim, “It obviously takes too much planning and slow work for the pieces in this show to be truly “improvised” but, like a carefully composed musical impromptu, I tried to maintain the spirit of play I use in musical improvisation in crafting these pieces.”