Trinh Tuan: The Tone of Lacquer

Trinh Tuan: The Tone of Lacquer

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Writen by Phạm Long.

At the end of the 19th century, geopolitically positioning at the corner of Asia continent, Vietnam became a land of interfering point of various cultural waves spread from the West to the East, from the North to the South and vice versa. Because of that specific situation, Vietnam developed an unique culture of diversity and multiple characteristics. As an unique result of that cross cultural waves, from the very beginning, the Vietnamese Lacquer Art carried itself the elegant of French decorative art, blending with craftmanship of Japanese Lacquer techniques, placing in the hand of warm, creative heart of Vietnamese artists, who were eager to adapt fresh views from the new world to identify themselves through artworks.

Urushi master Ishiko Suehiko, who graduated from Tokyo University of Arts in 1889, is considered to be the first man sharing the fundamentals techniques of lacquer art to many students of Hanoi School of Handicrafts and number of craftsmen and artists of the North Vietnam in the late of 19thcentury to the early 20th century. The sparking light from one of the lacquer master in the Golden Era of decorative art (1920-1930), who also used the Vienames lacquer on his decoration in Paris, had shredded and seeding a believe about the art of lacquer in the hearts and minds of Indochine Artists in the time of 1930-1940. Among these years, number of Vietnamese Lacquer masters (Le Pho, Nguyen Khang, Nguyen Van Ty, Nguyen Van Minh…) have travelled to France and Japan to expand their careers and taking the very first footprint of Vietnamese Lacquer on the world Art map.

On the wide historic timelines of Vietnamese lacquer painters, starting with the old masters like Le Pho, Tran Quang Tran, Nguyen Gia Tri…, until the very recent contemporary artists, Trinh Tuan emerges uniquely with the possession of advanced techniques from which may allowed him to create such astonishing paintings. From the year of 2006, in the book entitled “Impressionism and Expressionism – Vietnam Contemporary Art”, the two reputative art critic Shireen Naziree and Phan Cam Thuong have classified Trinh Tuan “amongst the master lacquer painters” and stated that “Trinh Tuan’s experiments with techniques have resulted in a confidence that has endowed him with a freedom of expression that transcends the usual progress of a painting.”

From that year until now, his journey has continued and are reaching new dimension of lacquer art. In recent time, I might say that the most significant element of Trinh Tuan lacquer painting is musical property. Besides, the thin border line between Fine Art and Craft is blurred, in other words, his paintings not only still possessed the traditional aesthetic from metal and red color techniques, but also open new spaces for such subtle and profound emotions through out his unique figurative language.

The music property which Trinh Tuan’s paintings carry could be recognized by the rhythms. In that world, the rhythms are created by the repetition orderly or randomly of one or many factors: linear portraits, curvy hairs, lotus flowers, witty houses and street, and seasonal trees. He intentionally creates and combines these symbolic shapes and forms then composes them in various spaces filled with selective colors. And the result has pulled the audience to the mixture state of calm and mesmerizing.

Among with rhythms of composition, he is well recognized in the skill of controlling colors and textures, especially the color of cool tone. The audience could sense the Hanoian cultural background of him with the mixture feelings of freedom and politeness. Viewers could smell the air of vagueness from the visual signal of Hanoi’s landscapes or ruminant portraits, which shares the similarity with the minor scale of music or in the other side, people can hear the tropical sounds of summer with dancing trees in the wind, the colorful sparkling spaces of the sky. His color palette is not limited with traditional color like red, yellow, black, and white from the eggshell. He extends the color palette to the opposite side of temperature: blue/cold tone, which is uniquely rare in Vietnamese Lacquer Art and marks an turning point of new exploring in lacquer art: new dimensions of cold color open to the mood of lightness, fresh air in the world of calmness. . The relationship between shapes and backgrounds in his creation form movement of figures which lead to viewer to the world of musical stillness. Inheriting the traditional charm of lacquer, he carefully details the small area of shapes with sparkling essences, the essences of feminine vibrance.

In lacquer art, the border defining fine art and craft art seems to be a slim thin line. Both forms of art exist in the perception of decoration and artistic senses. Fundamentally, these two forms of art are different. I could describe the unique appearance of Trinh Tuan’s works considered to be the most precious quality. Differ from the trend of duplicating motifs for decoration with other lacquer furniture from traditional painting themes and styles, Tuan’s lacquer world seems to have hidden messages behind the surface of seemly simple landscape. His painting is an half closing door, encouraging viewer to open and explore layers of emotion lays behind surface.

These two outstanding elements which only exist in Trinh Tuan’s lacquer world has formed and developed through out his journey in life, may these to be the crucial factors: (1) Artistic talent and the hobby with music from youth, (2) The Bauhaus method of design after the scholarship exchange when he was in the year of student, (3) His experiences from giving lectures to generations of studens in the past 40 years, (4) His international network with artists all over the world through art workshops and exhibitions, especially in the position of founder/chairman of Asia Art Link – a non profit organization active in connecting art communities across Asia and countries around the world.

Tirelessly being active in teaching, organizing and curating numerous art exhibitions, workshops and events, lacquer master Trinh Tuan has spread out and inspired the creative vibes to many young artists locally and internationally. At the moment, opera is his additional concern, which is a dream of him from early childhood. Multi-talented and full of creative energy, he confidently expresses his energy in various fields. Having talent and consciousness of a true artist, if he intentionally tuning his energy more directly to fine art, I am pretty sure that the rhythm of his lacquer arts will reach new dimensions and achievements, and also marking an undeniable place in the Vietnamese Lacquer Art History.

* Shireen Naziree, Phan Cam Thuong. Impressions and Expressions – Vietnamese Contemporary Paintings, Thavibu Gallery, Thailand, 2006.


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