Written with photos by Uyen Ly & Nguyen Duc Tung for Hanoi Grapevine
Do not copy or re-post without permission from the authors and Hanoi Grapevine
Using primarily deep tones, the artworks at the exhibition “Ellipses” catch the audience’s eyes by small details on the painting surface. All are intentionally and carefully created by artist Ha Manh Thang to each crack, depicting the beauty of imperfection and subtlety of artifacts through an abstract perspective. “Ellipses” is opened at Vincom Center for Contemporary Art until February 10th, 2019.
Hanoi Grapevine has the pleasure to share with you our interview with artist Ha Manh Thang on how his interest in artifacts inspired him to create this exhibition.
How did the interest in artifacts inspire you?
At first, it was the sense of the medium because every single bit of technical progress in painting takes time. Every period of time is a new improvement. Every artist needs to improve themselves over time. Artifacts gave me ideas on many things such as techniques, media, palette and how to create time-worn details on the paintings. To me, artifacts are the quickest and easiest reference because they already have colors and details of time. All the solution lie within them. What’s important is to use them wisely.
Does the time period of each artifact matter?
It doesn’t matter. For example, the lacquered board with the couplet over there are one of the first to inspire me to redraw the forgotten things. Looking at the cracks and imperfections on it, I started the series. I think art is great because there is a flawed, incomplete part remains in it. Our life is essentially the same. Each individual has theirs own defects.
So your way of looking at these artifacts that are different from the way they are displayed in the museum?
That relates to the research of the history or archeology. I also did research but not pay too much attention to those factors. I just focus on the connection between the hints of artifacts such as techniques, colors, materials or the beauty of time.
I think for Asians, art is often associated with religion during its development process. Painting is a way to cultivate yourself. Looking at this headless statue is like looking at the conversation between religion and the inner parts.
Why was its head gone?
I could only buy 2 out of 3 statues in that set and the head had already gone. Artifacts and time never have perfection. Despite losing head, the statue still has a beautiful spirit. Each line and detail is very soft as if a real person is moving.
At home I often take photos of small details and then try to figure out the way to create abstract paintings from them. It’s my a daily image experiment.
Do you have any experiments to find out which materials can fit together?
I have. Actually, painting techniques always develop due to the risks in the process of implementation. But sometimes there are big surprises in terms of materials. For example, I created most of my works using an acrylic-like material, on the basis of coal. When illuminated, the paintings will create dazzling visual effects.
My first intention was to use natural light instead of bulbs. It feels like we are entering a temple. Regardless of having to exhibit at a dimly lit space, I find this very interesting. The work will bring different and more abstract experiences. Entering here is like entering a house in the afternoon. The audience may feel disappointed at this lack of light at first. But I think it’s a way of “playing” with the light. People often don’t accept to “play” with imperfection, but put too much individuality into it. Here I leave everything the most natural. Everything is missing something.
When did you start to pursue the beauty of imperfection?
It was a long time ago. In my house I have a room for books and musical instruments. I also put in there a painting which mainly has yellow color. I don’t sell it, but leave it there for a long time. Every morning I look at the painting and play with my old piano. The room has two light sources, one from the gable and one from the hallway. The painting is like a golden mirror reflecting the light, giving me the feeling of looking at the copper surface of ancient statues in the temple. The light changes every time in a day. At noon, the room is really dark because the sun is at the highest point. That’s how I see the light and the space.
A few years ago I read an interesting book called “Embrace the darkness” by a Japanese author. The book is about how Japanese people use natural light, the feeling when natural materials are exposed to natural light and explains why they prefer candles to electric lights. The author suggested to me a lot about materials.
Many people wonder why I put such a beautiful painting on floor instead of hanging it properly. I just want to see everything in my house as it is. However, I can only feel those “things” but can’t name them exactly. I think the book helped.
These are paintings in the first series, using oil materials. They are glossy and too sensitive to light, making them not able to create the old-time-effect of artifacts. I had to change materials to implement more properly. These two paintings, one is red and the other is green, are like summer and spring. These two colors are placed on the banner along with the exhibition name: Ellipses. The name evokes an intersection, the last point of a road. I hung them here and shined lights on. When people stand at this point and look at them, they will see the brightest colors as the brightest hopes. The rest of the exhibition have dark colors, not giving audience many suggestions or sharing. There are paintings that have their own selfishness.
This painting was created when I was using oil paint and being playful with the details. On the surface are a figure of a cherry blossom tree from an ancient distich, and the smooth configuration of calligraphy. I determined these strokes of paint unequivocally and without mistake.
These strokes are of artistic expertise. Normally, people would imagine the rain falling down from the sky, but I gently drew it flowing up to create an optical illusion which provokes the curiosity of the viewers. At the same time, it also represents an urge to burst out, an abandonment.
Other artworks on showcase at “Ellipses”:
Artifacts that inspired artist Ha Manh Thang: