The same mixture of old and new is evident in the work of Vietnamese artists, who draw on the traditional heritage and the influence of the French school. In 1925 the Academie des Beaux-Arts de L’Indocchine was founded by french painter, Victor Tardieu, and still, life is landscapes, and portraits in oils, joined the Traditional Vietnamese genres of brush and ink painting and Tet woodblock prints. Many graduates of the Academic and its successor, the Hanoi College of Fine Arts, became leading figures in the development of modern art in Viet Nam.
At the same time, traditional lacquer painting also enjoyed a renaissance in the early 20th Century under masters such as Nguyen Gia Tri. Today, the artist Bui Huu Hung is exceptional in having taken that traditional medium to new heights by employing it in a modern contact. Using only traditional lacquer techniques and natural resins with subtle, deep tones, Bui creates atmospheric portraits and still lifes on both traditional wood and untraditional canvas surface. What is more, he achieves this by applying painterly techniques like European chiaroscuro in the depiction of people and ritual objects, defying the artistic and technical challenges involved.
Bui Huu Hung’s works, inspired by old Vietnamese myths and legends, evoke a mood of solitude and mystery. Typically the figure of a woman, whether she is a queen, a peasant girl, is centrally placed against an undefined background. This mysterious, dream-like space echoes the timelessness of the old Vietnamese myths and legends, which provide the artist’s inspiration. In contrast with the decorative or exotic trend of mainstream lacquer painting in Viet Nam, Hung’s compositions are simple, the forms elegant the palette subdued yet rich using natural red, brown and black lacquer tinted with gold and silver in an ancient way.
Lacquer is a complex, tricky, and time-consuming process which takes many hours to complete. Bui Huu Hung’s studio on the shores of West lake Hanoi operates on a system akin to a medieval guild, or rub and pumice wooden woods with stone and water. But only Hung, like an ancient alchemist, is capable of transforming this medium into a work of art. Thanks to his skill, emerging as if through layers of time from antiquity to the present day.
HongKong, February 2000