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18/05/2019 - 07:12

Quiet lacquer

In Hue, lacquer art is somewhat quiet when fewer and fewer artists are making lacquer paintings.

“Dream 1" by Luong Thi Anh Tuyet

Luxurious and refined

At the end of February, the exhibition "Time" at the French Institute in Hue introduced to the public new works of lacquer art. The 22 works on display provided the viewer with new emotions about the unique traditional material of our nation.

The seemingly quiet color palette of lacquer with just brown and black colors had been extended by the artists; the main colors of lacquer, white, black, red overlapped on each other, sometimes hidden, sometimes shown, then the white color of eggshell, the vermilion, the black color of the paint, the glitter of gold and silver all gave the viewer a warm feeling.

With this exhibition, viewers were excited to see various "faces" of lacquer. It also proved that lacquer art was changing with diversified expressions. The two works "Dream 1" and “Dream 2” by Luong Thi Anh Tuyet were polished to become clear, glossy and smooth to depict the softness of cloud and water.

 “Garden of Eden" by Nguyen Duc Huy had, on the other hand, the roughness, thickness, smoothness and concave and convex places of lacquer. It showed that besides conventional big shapes, artists could still go into detail with lacquer. This could be seen in “Innocent Age" by Le Phan Quoc.

“Time" was the most recent lacquer exhibition. It was a rare occasion and regarded as the “awakening" of Hue lacquer. "It shows that lacquer is still alive and developing in Hue. We need to quickly invest in creating and gathering artists for more regular exhibitions. It is quite possible because Hue has many passionate painters who are good at lacquer,” started Assoc. Prof. Dr. Phan Thanh Binh, Rector of Hue College of Art, Hue University.

Throughout his life attaching to lacquer art, Nguyen Duc Huy (College of Art, Hue University) always wants lacquer art to be spread and widely introduced to people. Many times, he initiated lacquer exhibitions, as a way for lacquer artists to have more faith in what they are pursuing.

"This traditional art form is still alive and developing. Artists are quietly bringing to lacquer a more interesting life,” said Nguyen Duc Huy.

Lacquer used to develop strongly in Hue, especially in the time before 1975, with the contribution of the deceased painter Do Ky Hoang, the first person who made souvenirs of lacquer. The beauty of lacquer lies in the depth of color, created by layers of paint and hidden in the base. 

The appeal of lacquer lies in the color, how to create colors and the use of natural materials. The overlapping layers of paint becoming glossy when polished and the hidden sparkling colors make lacquer paintings look luxurious and delicate. Once falling in love with lacquer art, no one can let it go.

Attracted by lacquer, for many years, the painter Nguyen Dinh Dang has been focusing on this type of painting. “The special thing of lacquer lies in techniques and materials: drawing, embossing, polishing, attaching eggshell, gilding, smoothing, roughening, accentuating, etc. The depth of lacquer is created by intertwined layers of color, shiny when looked closely, with unexpected aesthetic effects,” said he.

“Taking a nap” by Nguyen Thi Xuan Oanh

Need to be “awakened”

Vietnam is proud to be the country that invented lacquer and uses it in fine arts. However, the traditional lacquer is now at risk. “Fewer and fewer painters make pictures with the traditional lacquer, but they use Japanese paint instead because it can be bought easily at cheap prices. The base is rarely made of wood as before, but of modern materials,” said Assoc. Prof. Dr. Phan Thanh Binh.

The number of painters specializing in lacquer painting in Hue is not many with such faces as Truong Be, Nguyen Dinh Dang, Nguyen Dang Son, Nguyen Duc Huy, Do Ky Huy, etc. Fewer and fewer artists pursue this type of painting due to strict requirements about techniques and materials. This slim force is one of the reasons why for many years, there has not been any masterpiece in lacquer art yet though there have been some beautiful works.

“Pursuing lacquer art is quite hard because the Vietnamese paint is rare. Artists must go to as far as Phu Tho to buy it at a very high price. It is not easy to obtain good paint, either. If we buy a lot of it and do not use it all right away, it will be spoiled. The process of making a lacquer painting takes time with many stages. It takes us a few days before making another layer. An oil painting can be completed in a few days, but a lacquer painting takes several months, even a year or more. This is also the reason why many young artists hesitate with lacquer,” said the artist Nguyen Dinh Dang.

Making lacquer paintings requires artists to be clever, diligent and hard-working. In addition to passion, it requires knowledge and the mastery of materials. According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Phan Thanh Binh, though the number of artists specializing in lacquer is small, they are all experienced and passionate. That gives us hope about a better advance. What we need is a push to waken lacquer art.

Story and photos: MINH HIEN

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