Minh Phan: Flight of the Phoenix

Born in DaNang, Vietnam in 1972 Minh Phan is a painter who lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. Minh graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts in 2011 and has been exhibiting since 2007.

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Minh Phan

Between Sky and Sea (detail)


Oil on copper

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Minh Phan

Between Sky and Sea (detail)


Oil on copper


In 1980, at the age of eight, Minh Phan arrived in Australia along with his brother, Cao Phan and father, Ly Long, a former military officer in the South Vietnamese army. The trio had undertaken a perilous voyage along with some 190 individuals on a vessel that was barely seaworthy, fleeing persecution in their home country. 

The trio’s subsequent rescue at sea and processing in Singapore brought them finally to Australia. In 1983, they were reunited with those family members who had stayed behind in Vietnam, including Minh’s mother, Huong Tran.

Aspects of those experiences are encoded in Minh Phan’s striking body of oil on copper paintings presented in the exhibition ‘Minh Phan: Flight of the Phoenix’. The exhibition title is derived from a poem, written by Ly Long Phan during his imprisonment in Long Giao concentration camp in the 1970s, where he was subject to forced manual labor.

In large part, Minh’s artistic project is a direct response to and indeed, extension of his father’s own desire to preserve the material evidence of the family, especially through photographic documentation. Minh, who is both an artist and a forensic illustrator, has transposed both the images captured in his father’s archive, but equally, rendered the very blemishes and imperfections of those prints. Every crease, indentation and fold are reproduced in the finished paintings. Alongside these are Minh’s paintings of the immigration documents that enabled the passage of the trio into Australia. 

Unlike many photo-realist painters, whose productions are straightforward facsimiles, it is impossible to ignore the tender nature of these transcriptions. These indeed are paintings in which personal longings are brought to the fore, and where a desire for wholeness and a determination to honor family history coalesce in objects that might otherwise appear unremarkable. Equally, Minh Phan’s work provides insights into the migrant experience, which countless others have experienced, especially amongst Australia’s Vietnamese community.

Damian Smith, 2022

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