29 May 2007

Day of Culture

I had gone to the HCMC Fine Arts Museum shortly after arriving in Vietnam. Last week I finally got around to a second visit. I had no idea what was on, but a friend and I had decided to do something soul-enriching and the museum was our choice for the day.

Walking into through the grand entrance of this former colonial-era mansion, I stared at two massive paintings that hung on the opposite wall. I had never seen them, but they certainly looked familiar. Walking closer, I noticed the signature. Ah-ha! This was the same artist who had done the paintings on the calendar I’d received from my bank. And there was a whole museum of his stuff.

Mr. Pham Luc, although he signs his name “F.Luc” is a very prolific artist indeed. There were over a hundred of his recent works in the museum, as well as a few older paintings. He started out as an artist in the People’s Army, went on to study at the college of Fine Arts in Hanoi, and has been exhibited all over the world. Yet up until I went into the museum, he had just been the picture above the calendar on the wall.

The majority of the hung works were massive; around 4ft x 5ft. (please note that I am very bad at estimating size. They were large). Many were oils, but a large number were done with lacquer and broken egg shells, although from a distance you wouldn’t know this.

Vietnam has a long tradition with lacquer ware and the use of broken eggshells in the design. Again, unless someone tells you, you would never guess that eggs are involved. The shells are broken into tiny pieces and glued on to the work, be it a painting or bowl or jewelry box. Some are of the shell are slightly burnt with a flame, to give varying degrees of color. The finished egg shell area has the effect of a mosaic.

The colors and composition of F. Luc’s work were mesmerizing. He paints large, outlined figures, with little detail. Yet the entire picture is filled with incredibly detailed background areas. And, naturally, they loose so much when the image is transferred to a photo. Even in the book of his work available at the museum, you cannot get anywhere near the full effect. It is the type of art you would love to have in your house, provided you lived in a very large mansion with tall ceilings and immense wall space.

After the museum, we walked a few blocks over to “Antique Street.” I have read about this street, and it is included on all tourist maps, but had never been. It’s a very narrow, block-long side street, lined with little shops that sell, what looks to be, left over junk from someone’s backyard. There was a lot of non-interesting pottery, some old cabinets, and just plain junk. I wondered how anyone ever sold anything. We were there on a Sunday afternoon, and were about the only customers on the street.

By then, it was time for ice-coffee, and then back home before the rains hit. It was a lovely day, and I had gotten my art-fix.

Interested parties can look at Mr. Luc’s website: http://www.phamluc.com/