"This entire experience has truly transformed my outlook and opened up new horizons. I must say that these last two years have gone far beyond my wildest expectations."
Nhat creates abstract urushi paintings and sculpture with organic and geometric shapes and rich surface patterns. Urushi, the Japanese term for lacquer, is extracted from tree sap, clarified to transparency, and mixed with pigments to yield a variety of colors. Nhat's fellowship experience consisted of two distinct components: she yearned to deepen her understanding of urushi techniques and learn a new urushi technique, kanshitsu, one of the most complicated urushi processes, that consists of stacking successive layers of hemp cloth steeped in a clay/urushi mix to create three-dimensional urushi works of art.
To prepare for her trip, Nhat began by taking a two-month intensive course in Japanese language and culture. She invited Barbara Ford, recently retired Curator of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to be her travel companion, interpreter, and guide. While in Japan, she visited an urushi plantation outside Tokyo to learn about the planting and caring of urushi trees. She also visited several vendors of urushi lacquer and museums and galleries specializing in urushi art. She spent time learning from and studying with Japanese urushi masters at the prestigious Tokyo University of the Arts. In her conversations and meetings with the urushi masters, she was encouraged to apply to return to Japan for a four-month residency at the university. She was accepted to the program and returned in the spring of 2010 to continue her urushi education. Since returning to the U.S., Nhat has begun to produce kanshitsu artwork in her Indianapolis studio. "With everything I have learned, I have acquired tools that allow me to broaden the field open to my exploration, and I have a refreshed confidence that I will be able to give life to untried forms that were previously out of my reach."