A discussion with artist Doan Xuan Tung about his painting series “In...

A discussion with artist Doan Xuan Tung about his painting series “In the City”

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Written by Ut Quyen for Hanoi Grapevine and VCCA
Photos provided by the artists (unless otherwise specified)
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Hanoian people who love Doan Xuan Tung’s artworks using acrylic with newspapers on canvas with a strong, liberal style expressing his humorous view on life will have the chance to enjoy his works in the solo “In the City” on display at VCCA from 10 Sep to 16 Oct.

Hanoi Grapevine had had the chance to visit his studio and listened to him share about life, career, and information on his upcoming solo exhibition.

Photo: Nguyen Duc Tung

Can you share your thoughts about the upcoming exhibition, how did you have the chance to collaborate with VCCA?

It is my pleasure to be chosen and invited by VCCA for the “Young Artists Incubation Program” (more about the program at the end of the article). In this program, I was sponsored for my first solo exhibition.

Doan Xuan Tung, Tiep nuoc (Add water), 160x160cm, acrylic and newspaper, 2018
Doan Xuan Tung, Ve nha 1 (Come home 1), 150x210cm, acrylic and newspaper, 2016

I named the exhibition “In the City” because it reflects all my concerns about the urban life. The artworks focus on two main topics: on the one hand, the daily life of city migrant workers, on the other hand, the lives of the emerging middle class living in new apartment buildings – and enjoying the utility of these residence areas. At the same time when these people were at ease, others are working to exhaustion, that is the contradicting yet inseparable reality of the city life.

Why did you use newspaper prints and not any other medium in your work?

The choice to use newspaper prints stems from my interest in current social and political affairs. In addition to the visual effect, the content in the newspaper is historical material to reflect reality as authentically as possible. From a distance, you will see the whole picture, but when you look closely, you will read the news that show what problems our society is facing, what we care about… in a particular period in history.

The use of newspapers in paintings is not new. Since the time of Picasso, he had already applied the technique of gluing newspapers to paintings to create unique visual effects. But he did not consider the content on the news page. By the time Pop-art painting became a trend in the US in the years after World War II, artists used a lot of content on newspapers to reflect contemporary social issues. I think that in Vietnam, although happening behind, we are also going through a period very similar to the US at that time.

A part of an artwork, Photo: Nguyen Duc Tung

Was the content in the news page you chose related to each artwork?

Not necessary. Because no matter who we are, from which place and from what class, all have to live with the news. They overflow, cringing on us and you will not be able to avoid their impact.

I usually choose the news page over a period of several months. Choosing enough for a painting like this is not easy. I had to read a lot to pick out the pieces with appropriate content, and at the same time choose the font color, font size to match the painting palette. For example, this bright part of the painting will not match with a bold font news page. There are parts that need a lot of image overlays to contrast the multi-word segments. There are parts that have images as a background then texts pasted onto it… This is a meticulous process.

Urban life seem to be the consistent subject of all your works. Why does this topic captured your interest that much?

Maybe I was influenced by my mother. She is a teacher. She lives spiritual values more than with material. She enjoys literature and often tells me stories about the human life that she has read.
Another part of it is due to my background – from the labor class in the countryside coming to the city, undergoing the country’s transformation from the Subsidy to Renovation period, I myself have also transformed through different stages of life. Therefore, my art always has the desire to reflect the stories of human life in society.

Visiting the artist’s studio, Photo: Nguyen Duc Tung

Visiting your studio, I notice that your style has changed a lot. How did this process take place?

When I was studying at Yet Kieu (Vietnam University of Fine Arts – interviewer), I was keen on reading books and learning about artists from all over the world. The more you learn, the more confused you are, because whatever you want to do it seems like people have already done it all. In the end, I discovered that you shouldn’t be so hard on myself. A good work is not about what you paint, but how you express your true nature. An artwork must, first of all, be something very personal. It is like the artist’s distinct language, different from everyone else. And so I start from the smallest, the closest thing to me.

Thank you for sharing.

Taking place simultaneously at VCCA, two exhibitions “In the City” by Doan Xuan Tung and “Long Lasting dreams” by Bui Quoc Khanh promise to be an interesting dialogue of two artists of somewhat different personalities but with the same way of utilize Pop-art expression language as well as concerns about the modern society, following very distinctive directions.

The two exhibitions are part of the VCCA 2019 Young Artists Incubation Program aiming to accompany and support young Vietnamese artists in their career. The solo exhibitions are an opportunity for the artists to approach their audience and familiarize themselves with the professional exhibiting environment, as well as introduce their latest works to the grand public.

Translated by Hanoi Grapevine


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