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Sokquon TRAN (b.1969)

Sokquon Tran was born in Kampot, Cambodia in 1968 or 1969. The horrors of Pol Pot’s Cambodian genocide forced his family to flee and seek refuge overseas. Tran recalls boarding a crowded boat towards the end of 1976 that was ordinarily used as a fishing vessel. It was packed with people desperate to seek asylum away from Cambodia, but many of the people on the top deck were swept overboard by high waves on their journey to Vietnam. On the second leg of their journey from Vietnam to Thailand they were attacked by pirates who took any meagre possessions the refugees had. Tran survived the ordeals of his journey and immigrated to Australia in 1978. *

Tran studied Fine Arts at Liverpool TAFE and the University of Western Sydney, undertaking a Graduate Certificate, Associate Graduate Diploma in Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Visual Arts before becoming a full-time artist. ** He lives and works in Sydney and the Southern Highlands as an artist and sculptor.

Tran has exhibited extensively since the late 1980s and held his first solo exhibition at the Fairfield School of Art in 1991. Since then, he has held over 40 solo exhibitions and 50 group exhibitions. * Tran has won many awards and prizes for his paintings and his sculpture. He has been a finalist in many prestigious art prizes, including the Woollahra Sculpture Prize in 2002 and the Wynne Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2013 for his painting Wombeyan Caves. **

Tran is a contemporary artist who is best known for his ethereal landscapes, mainly of places in and around the Southern Highlands of NSW, such as Robertson and Kangaroo Valley. He paints using oil on canvas as well as many preparatory drawings using charcoal, crayon and watercolours. More recently he has incorporated timber, stone and elements of nature into his works, underscoring the links between his paintings and the land. **

Tran’s paintings are imbued with an emotional and spiritual significance that speaks to the romantic tradition. Tran has said that his “two main inspirations are the Australian landscape and the German Romantic tradition, which I fuse to create a different way of seeing our countryside”. *** He is influenced by Romantic artists and thinkers such as Delacroix and Nietzsche, as well as musicians such as Wagner and Schubert. However, religious iconography is absent from Tran’s work, an element that can be found in the earlier Romantics, as he is more fascinated by the spirituality of the land, his work capturing “the immense mystery of the land”. ****

The tranquillity in Tran’s paintings has also been noted to be seen in classical Chinese paintings where mountains and streams were obligatory symbolic elements. ** Tran himself has said: “To start with, I find peace in nature, the peace so lacking in the world. Nature is a wonderful teacher. Each painting is a revelation of instruction. It is my great privilege to be her student.” **** Yet his brooding landscapes are uniquely Australian and the exact location is less important than the sense of pure beauty and the magic of the land itself. Tran says: “At times, we unleash ourselves from the city's sparkling assaultive grasp, and another world may open itself to us in the empty undulations of the Australian landscape.” *****

Tran’s seemingly simple compositions are about more than meets the eye. As Bruce Doar says: “The menace and unease we sometimes feel gazing at his visions of rocky foreshores and mist-wreathed mountains viewed across brooding waters evoke human calamity, perhaps not surprising in an artist whose childhood was scarred by the horrors of war and human atrocities. The elemental and dark waters that lap around the consciousness expressed in his works tell of the journey he made to Australia as a young man with an artistic vision in which Géricault's Raft of the Medusa stood as a stark symbol of what nature and man can be forced to endure. Yet looming from the waters are the transcendent and redeeming landforms, a realm of ethereal mystery rather than a fatal shore.” **

David Sweeney has said of Tran’s art: “Look into Sokquon’s paintings and you will see the fertile fields of Cambodia and its waterways. You will feel trepidation but you won’t feel uneasy. You will see turgid seas, but you will be reassured. Sokquon’s work is optimistic. Sokquon is a master of form, subtlety, perspective and colour. His works are brooding and reassuring.” *

Tran’s works are widely held in Collections throughout Australia, including NSW Parliament House, Qantas First Class Captain’s Lounge, Sydney Airport and Crown Casino, Melbourne as well as corporate, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia and in New Zealand, the U.S.A., the U.K., Ireland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Malaysia and China.

* Background on the artist, David Sweeney, Sokquon Tran Studio Sale, 1 June 2019 ** Sokquon Tran Biography, Bruce Doar, Ocula, July 2017 *** Sokquon Tran, Wynne Prize 2013, Art Gallery of NSW **** Painting Romantic Australian Landscapes: Cambodian-born artist Sokquon Tran in pictures, Claire Wilson, Art Radar, 19 September 2016 ***** Sokquon Tran, Artist, Facebook page


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