Culture Culture

19/08/2021 - 10:56

Meetings with a talented man

I was not very surprised when receiving the news that the painter Hoang Dang Nhuan had passed away because he was old, and had been suffering from a stroke for many years. I suddenly recalled my meetings with him, from the first time almost a quarter of a century ago to his final years...

Hoang Dang Nhuan (1997)

I met Hoang Dang Nhuan a bit later than Buu Chi, another talented artist of Hue, because Buu Chi had been "involved" with Youth Newspaper since the early years after the reunification of the country through his typical pen nib illustrations. When Buu Chi went to Paris to display his paintings at Vietnam House in 1988, he sent his articles to Sunday Youth Newspaper in the form of letters telling stories about the “City of Light.”

It was not until the joint exhibition by Buu Chi and Hoang Dang Nhuan at Vinh Loi Gallery in October 1997 that I became acquainted with the painter of "Pink Street”, “Waiting Street”, “Dating Street”, “Street of Memories,” “Reeds by Ancient Citadel,” “Address of Amorous Girls,” etc., on display at the gallery.

More quiet than his close friend at the exhibition, Hoang Dang Nhuan was gentle, tolerant and calm. He behaved the same in many meetings later either in Saigon or in Hue.

A painting by Hoang Dang Nhuan (2013)

At Vinh Loi Gallery, once a popular exhibition space in Ho Chi Minh City, (which is unfortunately no more now,) since I had seen many paintings by Buu Chi, I paid more intention to Hoang Dang Nhuan’s, only to be surprised at the works of a famous artist who succeeded by self-study. 

Streets and houses in his paintings are sometimes colorful, sometimes very scarce in color. Mossy walls and ruins of the ancient citadel hidden in reeds are painted in a very unique style which is very convincing to a person at first sight. 

His series of street paintings on display and many others later altogether created the brand name “Streets of Nhuan.” According to Hoang Phu Ngoc Tuong, "Nhuan’s streets are empty but not depressing, dazzling but not exposed. They open then close a private world full of aspirations of those who are still very young.

“Perhaps the atmosphere of ancient Hue exerts a strong effect on Nhuan's soul. But it is also possible that Nhuan, as a lonely person, can meet his soulmate only in the fading shadows of history. Hoang Dang Nhuan is a confidant of ruins,” said Prof. Cao Huy Thuan, a Hue native living far away from his hometown, in 1990 on the occasion of the Hoang Dang Nhuan's exhibition at the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris. 

Hoang Dang Nhuan’s art space at Chieu E

Of all the times I met Nhuan, the most impressive one, which is always in my mind, was at the opening day of the exhibition by Vo Xuan Huy in Hue in February 2006. There he shared his feelings about lacquer paintings and how to organize an art exhibition.

Since his stroke, every time I had the opportunity to go to Hue, I would visit him, the owner of Chau E Gallery. The last time I saw him was in late July 2017. As always, as soon as he saw me entering the room, he exclaimed: "Is that you, Chuc?” That time, he told me about our mutual friends such as Dinh Cuong, Le Tai Dien (living in Paris), etc., about painting with his perpetual pain, and about his memories of Vinh Loi Gallery.

Before parting, Hoang Dang Nhuan presented me a photo book about his paintings. Looking at his paintings after the stroke, I suddenly recall his words in the exhibition book with Buu Chi: “Art to me is an effort of a lifetime. I have never felt satisfied.”

In late August 2011, I received a precious gift from Hue: a painting by Hoang Dang Nhuan painted in 2006 with his autograph. It has been ten years now. 

Story and photos: NGUYEN TRONG CHUC