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When you enter the downstairs gallery at Art Vietnam you are confronted by a large triptych of a chubby cheeked boy, arms outstretched. For a moment you may think you are observing a well executed propaganda poster. The boy, in the white shirt and red neck-scarf uniform of a pre-secondary school Vietnamese student, is the son of the artist Tran Hoang Son and is welcoming you to his father’s very beautifully presented homage to family and special acquaintances.
The bespectacled boy introduces you to a group of his father’s close male friends. These include a couple of well known local artists.
What hits you most is the intimacy that you share with these portraits – all in ink and natural colors on Dó paper. Their heads are twice life size and it’s their friendly gaze and flittering smiles that draw you into their circle (apart from Le Quoc Viet who grins and, as if to share a joke, cheekily catches your eyes through half closed lids).
Then what hits you is the delicacy with which these faces have been drawn. Their features seem to have been etched with enormous empathy. Each character is surrounded or embedded in symbols that represent their personalities and outlooks on life.
Upstairs, in the middle gallery, the artist’s extended family has been drawn in similar size but installed in a series of Dó paper scrolls. It’s another intimate jouney as you wander through the portraits, catching inquisitive eyes and wanting to initiate personal conversations.
The portrait of the family matriarch, drawn lovingly, hangs at the head of the family phalanx, poignantly honored with a vase of those pungent white flowers that are placed on ancestral altars.
The top gallery almost takes your breath away. Here on scrolls are the aged and wrinkled faces of old ladies and one old man from the artist’s ancestral village. Has ever age been so beautifully portrayed? The eyes embrace you with a direct and honest, if sometimes bewildered gaze. Ah, what stories are contained in this room! It is so lovely that you don’t want to leave and are drawn back into its depths again and again.
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Should I live to venerable old age with my wrinkles channel-deep and liver spots spilled like coffee blots between them, I would think it a great honor to be drawn by such a master as Tran Hoang Son.
Art Vietnam has taken a huge gamble in showing back-to-back portrait exhibitions but it has succeeded beautifully.
The characters in these portraits are obviously delighted to share these visual aspects of themselves and some even appear willing to share hinted ambiguities and secrets.
Definitely worth a visit or two.
|Not a reviewer, not a critic, “Kiếm Văn Tìm” is an interested, impartial and informed observer and connoisseur of the Hanoi art scene who offers highly opinionated remarks and is part of the long and venerable tradition of anonymous correspondents. Please add your thoughts in the comment field below.|