Visions of Vietnam: the nation’s artists fuse eastern and western elements in lyrical compositions to be shown in London by Raquelle Azran gallery, By James Brewer
Vietnamese art, says Raquelle Azran, is defined by its brimming vitality, lush colours and directness, as well as by its poetic, dreamlike meditativeness. Raquelle – collector, museum curator and gallerist – is in her 11th consecutive year of exhibiting Vietnamese contemporary fine art in London. One of the first opportunities to see her latest collection will be at the Affordable Art Fair at Battersea from March 6-10.
Her enterprise, Raquelle Azran Vietnamese Contemporary Fine Art, operates primarily from Hanoi, New York and Tel Aviv (www.artnet.com/razran.html ).
A first encounter with Vietnamese art evokes surprise as well as delight. Familiar mediums – oil, gouache and watercolour – join with distinctly Asian motifs and spatial concepts. This blend of eastern and western sensitivities began in 1925 with the founding of the École des Beaux Arts in Hanoi by the French artist Victor Tardieu (a friend of Matisse) and has continued to inspire the Vietnamese aesthetic tradition.
The juxtaposition of handmade rice paper and traditional lacquer painting with contemporary artistic techniques bridges the temporal worlds of past, present and future, says Raquelle. It spans the cultural divide of eastern and western stylistic elements. Impressionism, expressionism, figurative art, cubism and fauvism intermingle with purely traditional Vietnamese themes of emotional experience and spiritual values as exemplified by the village, the buffalo, and ancient dances.
Depending on the personal message of the artist, the spectator is invited to share in memories of the past or to enter a fantasy world of stylised imagery. “Never confrontational or aggressive, Vietnamese art is a lyrical, serene and intriguing moment of beauty in time, ” observes Raquelle.
All the artists represented by Raquelle live and work in Hanoi, where she has been active in this field since 1991. All have exhibited widely: elsewhere in Asia, in Europe, and in the US.
Artists exhibiting in London in 2013 include Dinh Thi Tham Poong, a young Vietnamese woman of Thai and H’mong hill tribe descent, who vividly captures in watercolour on handmade rice paper her concerns and emotions relating to the contemporary world. Women and nature – trees, plants, leaves –mingle and merge in scenes simultaneously actual and surreal.
In a similar medium, Vu Thu Hien, a young woman artist, paints magical mysteries of ethnic figures both fairytale and real, shimmering and equivocal, who combine with tropical foliage and exotic interiors “to weave timeless melodies in celebration and empathy of human passions, ” as Raquelle describes it.
Nguyen Bao Toan offers his distinctive perspective within a rich juxtaposition of painting, sculpture and ceramics. Raquelle comments: “Combining a deceptively simplistic secular folk aesthetic with sophistication of simile and metaphor, Toan the ‘city mandarin’ envelops us within the solicitude and warm humanity of the countryside.” He paints in watercolour and ink on silk.
Dinh Hanh offers modern representations of the female form by means of the ancient technique of multi-layered lacquer on wood Raquelle enthuses: “Using the most delicate of line and contour, Hanh beguiles us with glowing images that are both universal and timeless.”
A master painter for over 50 years, Phung Pham is the oldest artist in this selection. He has developed traditional lacquer painting and woodblock prints in a particular contemporary way. Inspired by the minority tribes he lived among during his formative years – he reaches the age of 79 this year – Phung Pham emphasises geometrics of pattern and line to evoke stylised and evocative visions of his native land.
Applying watercolour on silk and woodblock prints, Vu Dinh Tuan transforms traditional icons and mediums into contemporary language. Images of women playing musical instruments metamorphose into vividly hued birds and flowers. Village woodblock prints are transmuted into modern printmaking techniques, referencing Matisse in palette and perspective.