Vernissage Expo Paris-Hanoi-Art - Galerie UGVF - 15
Tran Thi Doanh is a painter whose carefully crafted works of art, especially in lacquer, capture Vietnamese society in timeless brilliance
For visitors who want to discover the essence of Vietnam, the paintings of Tran Thi Doanh will leave a strong impression.
I stumbled upon an exhibition of her works during an afternoon walk in Hanoi in late April. Her beautiful paintings, carefully crafted pictures of rural village life, street vendors, and hill tribe people in turbans and embroidered robes can be likened to a mini-documentary of Vietnam, past and present.
The viewer is easily drawn to her oil and water color paintings because of the simplification of the color. Form is expressed tonally, with dapples of color delineating areas of light and shade. Those exhausted by the heady tropical heat in Hanoi will find great relief in Mrs. Doanh's works, which convey a sense of peace, love and beauty.
"My life-long goal is to create beautiful pictures," she said.
Some of her works reflect the intimate role of the family institution in Vietnam: people are held together in the face of change. Her paintings are also the story of human destiny; through her works viewers can see different pieces of life with which they can identify - the village gate, the trees, or the rice fields.
Born in Kim Hoang Village in Ha Tay province, Mrs. Doanh acquired the quintessence of art through her father, who was himself a painter.
"As art is our family's tradition, I grew up with it. My father was my first teacher," she said.
While in secondary school, she "fell in love" with Picasso. Later, she became interested in Gauguin, Van Gogh and Modigliani. Her Vietnamese idols in art are Nguyen Gia Tri and Nguyen Sang (who are very famous for their lacquer paintings), and To Ngoc Van, Bui Xuan Phai and Luong Xuan Nhi, all of whom are masters of oil painting.
At Hanoi Fine Arts University, her major was in oil painting, and she taught herself to paint with water colors, on silk and paper as well as canvas. Lacquer, however, is her favorite medium - and perhaps the greatest challenge - because in lacquer techniques, the full elements and details of the work will not appear until the last phase, sometimes with "a lot of surprises", as she said.
With her father and elder brother - who is also an artist - she learned the laborious art of lacquer painting, which some researchers say dates as far back as the third and fourth centuries. This particular form of art is believed to have begun in China, where people collected the lacquer substance from a tree which produces a sap suitable for painting.
It is a very meticulous work to produce a lacquer painting, and the process can take several months to complete. The painting is done on a piece of wood, or template. It is covered with a piece of cloth glued to it using the sap of the lacquer tree and then coated with a layer of the sap mixed with earth. The board is then sand-papered and recoated with a layer of hot sap.
After polishing, this gives a smooth and shining black surface.
The painter uses hot lacquer to draw the outline of a picture and the colors are applied one by one, layer upon layer. Each coat dries slowly.
The final process consists of polishing and washing the picture. This may seem like brutal treatment for a work of art, but it is done with great care, said Mrs. Doanh.
This process leaves a brilliant surface on the painting.
Lacquer paintings are also very durable. An oil painting may show cracks in the paint after a period of time, but the lacquer painting will last unchanged for several hundred years.
Art Mecca Mrs. Doanh is one of around 6,000 artists who live in Hanoi, considered by many to be the Art Mecca of Asia.
"Painters in Vietnam are well recognized. Certainly not all of them, but we have many famous painters whose works are kept in museums and private collections all over the world," she said.
Some of the best known are Girl with White Lily, an oil painting of To Ngoc Van; Thuy of Tran Van Can; and Bui Xuan Phai's set of paintings depicting Hanoi streets.
The Vietnam Arts Museum displays many fine pieces, some famous, some not. All painters can make a living through their works in the country, said Mrs Doanh, but the most famous artist may not be the richest. "We have many painters who are very rich because their paintings are bought by foreigners. If you ask 10 Vietnamese about Thanh Chuong, I'm sure there will be at least six of them who know him and will tell you how rich he is. Still, he doesn't have many awards, but the foreigners love his paintings. "
Vietnamese paintings are displayed at national and international events, including the APEC meeting in Hanoi last November. Vietnamese painters have a good relationship with foreign counterparts who they meet through cultural exchange events.
Mrs. Doanh is now in France ( May 2007 ) to display her works at the invitation of Ateliers D'Artistes de Belleville (Friendly Exchange Culture and Arts Association of Belleville) in Paris. It is her second trip outside Vietnam, the first one being to China, where she stayed for a month.
Mrs. Doanh said she has heard a lot of good things about Thailand and would like to come here to display her works as well. "Through paintings, people from different countries can understand each other's culture and way of life," she said.
"Painters are the ones who create beauty. They are the link between the past and present ... and they help people to protect their national heritage."
(Editor's Note: Mrs. Doanh's paintings can be viewed at Quan Thanh Temple on Thanh Nien Street and at the White Lotus Gallery, No 71Bl, Hang Trong Street, Hanoi.)
Addendum from the UGVF Gallery :
After her display in Belleville , Mrs Doanh has shown her works at the UGVF Gallery ( with others artists from the Paris-Hanoi-Art Collective )