16:30, 01 Jan – 01 Feb 2022
38 Trần Cao Van, Ward 6, District 3, HCMC
Written by Nguyen Hung
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A poetic and humane extreme
Phuong Quoc Tri is one of the few painters in Vietnam that I have been following with much interest for several years. Ever since the early years in his career, I had known he would go far and leave his mark on the art scene. Phuong Quoc Tri is best known for his portraits. Those in the art world and spectators alike, almost everyone agrees that Tri is excellent at capturing and expressing his models’ auras and personality on the canvas, with a bold, active, energetic style… With his experience and fine techniques, it’s easy for him to capture the distinctive features in the models’ appearance and to conquer the aesthetic impressions of them.
Phuong Quoc Tri has another field of work that few people know about. It’s the paintings that he said he “created for himself”. It’s the field in which he has to abandon all habits and find a new way… I have witnessed from the very beginning the wobbly steps full of concern, and also full of insecurities of Phuong Quoc Tri. As an observer, I appreciate and enjoy this insecurity. In art, when the artist is insecure, it’s when he is discovering, tormenting, and removing layers of his soul. From there, if he’s lucky, he would be able to create something really new and authentic.
Recently Phuong Quoc Tri invited me over to his house to see “the paintings created for one’s self”. There were fifteen of them in total, in big sizes. It’s been my habit not to make any comments when looking at a painting for the first time. Critique or evaluation, to me, is regaining consciousness on the emotions and feelings that are formed when we are directly exposed to the paintings. And I only write reviews when such consciousness is crystal clear, creating an energy that urges me to write… Standing in front of the series of “created for one’s self” paintings of Phuong Quoc Tri, suddenly, I thought of the karesansui rock gardens full of the Japanese wabi-sabi spirit. In these rock gardens, there are only rocks and white sand. No green trees. No poetry/romance. All that is there is the simplicity, nakedness, roughness and hardness of rocks and sand. It’s the art of silence, of solitary, incompleteness, and imperfection. It forces the spectator to stop, all of a sudden, to face it like they are facing their soul, their identity. And, to contemplate… It’s hard to say Phuong Quoc Tri knew about and is affected by the wabi-sabi spirit of the Japanese rock garden art. I mentioned it, because I was startled by Phuong Quoc Tri’s paintings, with the same emotions and thoughts as I was startled looking at the wabi-sabi Japanese rock gardens.
Some painters who had looked at these paintings by Phuong Quoc Tri said he drew people like he made sculptures. The stone sculptures that were carved in a hurry, unfinished, deformed… And it’s true. The symbolism in Phuong Quoc Tri’s paintings, the state of being pressed and flourishing, constricting and expanding is shown in the solid, rough graphic structures with overlapping and twisted heavy shapes, and with powerful brushstrokes made with short, hurried, interrupted strokes… all give Tri’s paintings a strange power of expression. It’s the poetic and painful extreme expressions of fate and spirit amidst an empty, dark and undefined space… Is this just a way of trying to find something different in terms of appearance to leave a personal mark? Looking at Phuong Quoc Tri’s paintings as a whole with an internal unity, I don’t think so. It’s a natural expression of his obsessions, torments and thoughts about fate, in a reality that seems to have turned into a place of exile, a strange realm. Moreover, it represents the will to survive, the will to escape with a painful, poetic love towards transcending humanity in him. Phuong Quoc Tri seems to be painting himself, his wife, his children, his loved ones, the people that he wants to protect, to cover, or to share the burdens of their existence… Phuong Quoc Tri doesn’t paint the reality seen by the eyes. He paints the reality molded by his soul. The things that torment him, that make him think. Phuong Quoc Tri’s paintings, therefore, move back and forth between symbolism and expressionism. In them, there is a dark, creepy vibe with metaphysical emotions like in Mikhail Vruben’s paintings (Russian painter, 1856-1910), there is a fierce, reckless vibe with worldly emotions like in Ilya Repin’s (Russian painter, 1844-1930), and there is also a full will of masculinity as in Michelangelo’s (Italian sculptor, 1475-1564). They really are startling with the feeling of pain but also full of vitality… Phuong Quoc Tri gave these “created for himself” paintings a common name, “Solar Eclipse”. Solar Eclipse: the sun is hidden, even swallowed! With this name, I think, Phuong Quoc Tri has become fully aware of his brainchildren. It’s also a full consciousness of himself, of the human fate amidst a life full of uncertainties and cruelty…
Finally, I get to write uninterruptedly about Phuong Quoc Tri – as an artistic personality. And for me, this is a great honour.
Sài Gòn, 16 Nov 2018