Story: Trang PS
Photos: Vu Ha

The series “Trong cái không có gì không” (Is nothing something?) marks a turning point in artist Tran Nhat Thang’s consciousness. Last April, his previous exhibition, “Min không” (Emptiness), explored the essence of movement, which I described as “creative like a wind”. This series is an investigation into the nature of stillness in movement.

Painter Tran Nhat Thang

“Emptiness” (sunyata) is an age-old concept in Buddhism. The path to the truth doesn’t lie in mere words but in one’s own experience beyond thoughts. Under the Bodhi tree, the Buddha realized that all forms, thoughts, and emotions were impermanent, except for this immutable stillness.

“Is nothing something?” is a question that Tran Nhat Thang asked himself and then answered through art. While working on this series, he experienced the “emptiness” that would later be expressed in his paintings.

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Stillness is the root of all movement

 “Is nothing something?” touches upon the nature of stillness, which is the root of all happenings. Each brushstroke is not merely an act of movement or development on the canvas but instills a certain quietude that encompasses every change. He used the image of the Buddha or monks as a metaphor for equanimity toward reality’s transience.

The artist’s choice of topic is rustic scenery: a river, a stream, or a windy place. All of them evoke a sense of stillness deep inside us, as he drew every movement in the deep silence of his mind. It brings to mind those times when we are absorbed in the sight of crashing ocean waves or watching green leaves gently dance in the breeze and come to realize that each movement of the waves, wind, and leaves contains a state of indescribable calm. And only with this utmost concentration do we truly become worry-free, just like Mr. Thang did while devoting himself to painting.

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The answer lies within

Tran Nhat Thang experienced the depth of stillness he depicted through his art. His work then became a trigger – “a finger pointing to the moon” that enables spectators, now free from worry, to find stillness within themselves. That realization goes beyond every notion of stillness, beauty, art, and anything else because the essence of our beings is not confined by narrow concepts.

The series offers many triggers through various familiar and lively images. These include images of the Buddha meditating under the Bodhi tree, monks observing the peaceful Buddha entering Nirvana, and the Buddha walking or sitting untroubled. Surrounding those images are the ever-changing environment, in stark contrast to the pure and everlasting representation that permeates all spaces.

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With a direct approach to our minds, Mr. Thang’s art usually broadcasts a sense of honesty and candor. He neither tries too hard nor overly depends on colors or techniques to prove his artistic integrity, allowing his creative works to be free of predefined concepts. This makes his work consistent with the “emptiness” that is the nature of everyone, as the Buddha has taught.

It is in the void that the artist’s eyes open: seeing things as they are without holding any delusions about them. His arts convey the same seeing of “emptiness”, pure and graceful without any subjective thought or emotion. There is no right or wrong when it comes to his paintings, neither doubt nor deceptive provocation to himself and spectators. He looks at things and draws them as they are. With that simplicity in mind, every meticulous contrivance vanishes into thin air.