For artist Ly Truc Son, paint-ings are the medium through which he can portray all the innermost passions in his life.
More than 30 paintings of the renowned artist, made on do (poonah) paper and portraying the troubled life of Xuy Van, a famous character in Vietnamese cheo (traditional opera) theatre, have caught the attention of the public at l’Espace.
At the exhibition, Son described his paintings, dating from 1986, as being inspired by his favourite character in the Vietnamese traditional operetta.
Born in central city of Hue, Son grew up and lived in the Red River Delta. The culture and the music of this northern land gradually became his spiritual food.
During his youth (in the 1950 and 1960s), he spent several years living in the countryside and working with the farmers.
Cheo singing, a form of rural theatre with songs, which is specific to northern Viet Nam and the soul of several generations of farmers of this region, has since become one of his great passions.
“Among the characters in old cheo pieces, I prefer Xuy Van or Van ‘dai’ (Van the mad). This female character is tormented by inner conflicts. I can feel her pain through the magnificent cheo scenes performed with magical dances and very beautiful music. The portrayal of this character requires special skills and techniques. For me, Xuy Van Gia Dai (Xuy Van Pretends to Be Mad) is the best tragedy of old Vietnamese theatre.
“We have never seen human pain performed in such as a strange and splendid way,” Son said.
Cheo singing and do paper inspired him to invent an original method of painting. Son paints the character in different emotions and gestures, without knowing for sure that it comes from true cheo singing scenes or from his mind.
“It is an audacious experiment on traditional paper, but he succeeds,” Artist Luong Xuan Doan said.
The art works are on display at l’Espace, the French Cultural Centre, at 24, Trang Tien Street, till June 16.
The painter continues to paint abstract paintings with natural colours on this kind of paper.
Son started studying at the Ha Noi University of Fine Arts at the age of 12 and became a teacher seven years later. He was one of the youngest professors at the school at the time.
He was called by his teachers as the “encyclopedia” because of his huge knowledge about different sectors.
When the war broke out, Son joined the army. When it ended, he returned to teach at the school. In 1988, he got a scholarship to study fine arts in France.
He spent nine years studying fine arts and worked as a sketch artist in the streets in France and Germany.
Started in lacquer
Son first gained fame in the country’s fine arts industry as a lacquer artist. He then changed his style and began painting on do paper, using natural colours made of herbs.
He will soon finish the construction of his painting workshop in his house in Gia Lam District of Ha Noi. A few years ago, his workshop was located 30km away from his house.
Every day, he work in the workshop, bringing lunch from his house. He spent the whole day gardening. In his shorts and a singlet, he hoed the land, planted trees, chopped down branches and dried leaves. He cooked them to create different colours. He then created new paintings on do paper, using those colours.
Son experimented by making and using natural colours, instead of industrial colours.
He has often used the dark purple colour of la cam (magenta plant), the red of rau den (amaranth), and violet blue of hoa dau biec (pea flower), collected during his trips along the Red River in the north. Son said he was eager to see the transformation of the colours themselves.
“Natural colours have their own way of expressing beauty. Unlike industrial ones, colours made from herbs, when applied on do paper, will produce a very limpid picture. The colour lasts longer than the industrial ones and the picture is more real and beautiful,” Son said.
The new venture has made the painter a real-life explorer, who travels to different lands to find exotic plants, plant them and mix colours before using them.
“The chance to travel, live and paint already gives me great happiness,” he said.