Culture Culture

13/12/2019 - 08:03

Falling in love with Hue

In one of my visits to Hue, I had a chance to meet with a foreign artist living and working here, Léopold Franckowiak. Being a Polish-born French, Leo (his informal name) came to Hue in 2011 and has fallen in love with this quiet but culture-rich land ever since.

After a few years teaching French at the Institut Français (IF – ‘French Institute’) in Hue, Leo started painting in 2016. His solo-exhibition Rendez-Vous was opened at the New Space Arts Foundation (NSAF) of Le Brothers (Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai) in December 2018. The Rendez-Vous is taking place again at the IF in December 2019. In a simple and sincere way, Leo had an interesting talk with me.

Léopold Franckowiak painted the mother of the Le Brothers in his studio on Chi Lang street, Hue

Why did you choose Hue rather than other cities in Vietnam to live and work?

It was somewhat a coincidence to choose Hue for my permanent residence, as I once stayed for 6 months with a friend whose wife is from Hue. I also find this city convenient for me. It is not too far from the beach, and it has a French library at the IF Hue. This is important to me because I read quite a lot.

Moreover, Hue is beautiful and not too big with hospitable people. Although I have ever lived in Paris, and I love Hanoi or Saigon very much, I do not really like living in such busy and polluted urban areas, and it takes too much time to go around.

In Hue, I met Le Quoc Hoan, an artist, who soon became my friend and introduced me to the local artist community, especially at the lively art center on 15 Le Loi street. It is an important hub for home as well as international artists. The idea of living long in Hue came up to my mind.

What do you think about artistic activities in Hue?

It's a pity that I didn’t have a chance to learn all about Hue and Vietnam in general, I mean, the ancient, modern and contemporary art museums as well as contemporary art galleries. Fortunately, the internet can somehow compensate this deficiency. I have found for myself and take it easy the Vietnamese life characteristics that I cannot find in Europe.

The involvement of NSAF in my early life in Hue was very important. Thanh and Hai really had powerful motivation and strong desire to integrate modern art into life, and great contribution to networking Vietnamese artists and international artists through their activities during their mission stays held by NSAF.

I was very impressed by the Le Brothers’ work, in which they practiced the international contemporary art while remaining the Vietnamese identity. This shows their insight into history and their open-mindedness. We have already struck up our friendship since I arrived in Hue eight years ago.

As a practitioner of contemporary art (installation and performance art) for a long time, what brought you to painting and finally had the impressive exhibition Rendez-Vous?

A Self-Portrait

The development of installation and performance art in Europe has been certainly influenced by the Western culture, imbued with Greek myths or historically related to both Judaism and Christianity (I’m sorry that my Vietnamese is not enough to tell you more clearly about this).

However, I have to change instruments and materials if I want to pursue art activities in your country. That’s why I chose painting although I had never painted before. A world of images, I think, will help me easily share with people from other cultures.

It was the ‘all-conceptual’ time of art when I was studying at the college of Fine Art in France. I was taught with only pure knowledge and there were no techniques at all. Sometimes, there was sketch drawing. Therefore, I had to self-study everything, but as I paint every day, I make rapid progress and improve techniques.

I choose lacquer as my painting material because it takes time to get dry, and this allows me to get back to what I have painted and finish it in a way that I want it to be.

There were almost portraits at the exhibition Rendez-Vous. Why did you choose to have only portraits, especially the big-sized portrait set of the Le Brothers and their mother?

The most difficult of all in my life in Hue is the language. I had neither the opportunity nor time to learn and understand well Vietnamese. Fortunately, my artist friends are all able to speak English. This is an advantage to help me involve in painting and take up portrait painting with passion.

I paint portraits because I love people most. They are all people I have ever met and known – either alive or dead – but they all made me self-aware of my own betterment.

All the sudden meetings in my life have led me to becoming an artist, and this is why I have always named my exhibitions “Rendez-Vous” since I started my artist career. It is the story of my love with this world and the reason for my existence.

Since I had the intention of painting the portraits of the Le Brothers, I considered the invitation to join the project from Thanh and Hai a good chance. The difference is the size of the paintings. Of course, their recommendation of the big size opened another view for me. I enjoyed painting them as idols.

I made a triptych out of the portraits of Thanh and Hai by painting the portrait of their mother as a contrast to her sons in terms of characters; yet all were painted in a very classical style. The mother in the painting was the symbol of a gentle, idyllic Vietnamese woman of good sense.

Many thanks, Leo, and all the best to your artworks in Hue.

By Nguyen Trong Chuc