Asian Art News, August 2001
By Ian Findlay
During the French colonial era in Viet Nam,lacquer painting was seen very much as a craft rather than an art.Today,however,it is viewed as an extremely important art form among a new generation of artists such as Nguyen Thanh Chuong and Bui Huu Hung,for example.It is also very popular among collectors who view it as an integral part of contemporary Viet Namese art.Le Hoang Nguyen,30,who graduated in 1993 from Hanoi Fine Art ‘s Institute’s lacquer department,is absolutely clear his choice of medium and its merits.
“This is my favorite medium and it represents the traditional values of Viet Nam that I am attracted to,’he says.”I look at the technical aspects of it as an art form;it has the potential to create a lot of visual effects than can’t be captured or achieved in oil paintings.And the material for lacquer are from natural sources.”
Nguyen was drawn to lacquer from an early age but,when he was a first year student at art school,a visit to the countryside provided him an opportunity to familizes himself with the “atmosphere of the pagoda and in the world of the color from the past.”His ready acceptance of the tradition and color values of lacquer ,as well as the visual world he makes in his art ,does not mean that he has completely rejected contemporary art and the experience of it over”traditional values,”even though much of his art reveals a strong leaning towards the religious symbolism of traditional Viet Nam.What it means,he says, is simply” that I am doing my favorite work.Working with tradition means that I can stay away from the reality of today.I was born and grown up in Hanoi.When I went to the countryside,the traditional world attracted me more than that of the contemporary world.I am looking for the spirit of the past,the spirit of the tradition of the past.
” I have tried a lot images and way of expressing my ideals with lacquer but finally I found that my favorite image are from the past ,from tradition.For example,the beautiful form and color of the vase and the peaceful spirit of the monk.I like the beauty of the symbols of the religion and the theater of it.I am not trying to understand it,I am simply trying to express what I see,as the beauty of it.”
Having accepted lacquer painting as his art practice ,Nguyen quickly discovered that there were numorous technical challenges to overcome to achieve the best possible visual results within his medium.”The texture is about the most important challenge because the range of colors are limited,”he says.”The original lacquer palette was very limited,but this is changing.And here the challenge now is to extend the color range.So that is also the reason why I experiment in different styles,from realistic to abstraction.”
Like many others who have taken to lacquer the names of Nguyen Sang and Nguyen Duc Nung are cited as significant influences,both in the spirit of the medium and in their achievement in maintaining many of the traditions.While Nguyen recognizes these artists as influences ,he does not reject his contemporaries and their work in laquer.
“I enjoy contemporary lacquer artists and I have learned a lot from them,”he says.”I like the way contemporary the artists deal with their themes.On the whole it is quite simple .The villages and the religous traditions of Viet Nam are strong.”
While many may dismiss contemporary lacquer as merely as a backward look at a tradition that is fading ,giving away to a more dynamic contemporary expression in other forms and mediums,the works of lacquer artists have achieved significant success far beyond the borders of the Viet Nam.Le Hoang Nguyen at 31has already won numerous prestigious awards for his art ,including a prize in the 1997 Philip Morris ASEAN Art Awards. Such accomplishment encourages others to adopt the medium.By doing so they are creating links with the past and understanding that without suck links there is not future for art.For Nguyen,art is an essential part of his life.’I look at art as a normal action of my everyday life,”he says .”For me I see it as a natural action.But art is certainly the most important thing for me.”