Do Thi Tham
The colorful lifestyles in the Northern and Central highlands have been recreated through the diverse color palettes of Hanoi artists.
Vietnam’s Northeastern, Northwestern, and Central Highlands have rich cultural identities. These colorful landscapes provide inexhaustible sources of inspiration for artists. If the Dong Van Rock Plateau embodies the grandeur of a rugged land where people live and die on the rocks, the Central Highlands are always epic and romantic with timeless sagas about Xinh Nha or Dam San. However, conveying the spirit of these historic lands without losing a contemporary touch remains a challenge for artists. Some Hanoi artists have devoted a great deal of time to this topic.
Regarding lacquer painting, artists have fully explored the abstract nature of Vietnamese lacquer to introduce audiences to changing shades in their paintings. As a painter renowned for his mastery of this material, Nguyen Truong Linh has employed new techniques to create magical novel effects with this material in his works “Dam San” and “Di tom loi ru mat troi” (Chasing the lullaby of the sun). Inspired by the epic “Dam San seeks to marry the Goddess of the Sun”, his series of paintings praises the splendor of nature and the heroic blood that flows in the veins of the people in the Central Highlands. On the other hand, the collection “Tieng vong qua khu I;II” (Echoes from the past I;II) by Nguyen Xuan Luc is heavily influenced by surrealism, depicting memories of the central highlanders’ sacred and mysterious beliefs with motifs of grave house statues. In “Tieng vong” (The echo) by Tran Tuan Long, the main vermillion color evokes the image of a sacred space with statues that have stood for a thousand years, and the cold moonlight that seems to resound like an echo of a historical epic. Meanwhile, black and puce paint are used appropriately in combination with a modern style to create strong emotions, as felt in the wonders of Dao Minh Tuan in “Earth, Water, Fire” – the indispensable elements in nature that bring life to humanity but also death to those who do not appreciate the values of nature. The lacquer painting on canvas “Khong gian mien nui” (Mountainous space) by Nguyen The Hung preserves the entire solemn atmosphere of the Northern Highlands.
Taking his liberty with lacquer, Bui Quoc Khanh has taken a “pop” approach and a fresh perspective in “H’reng trong bao tang” (H’reng in the museum). The painting depicts a young woman from the Central Highlands with a sad look in her eyes, gazing up at the sky and at a society that is materially rich but in which historical and cultural values are only displayed in museums. The painting somehow satirizes our contemporary society where our rich culture is gradually disappearing and may disappear for good if we do not take real action. Also making use of the material, Nguyen Minh Hieu’s “Dang sau cua coi tam I, II” (Behind the gate of a temporary realm I, II) series uses distinctive decorative patterns of the Central Highlands to tell myths about the gods often mentioned in epics and songs. In an impressive artistic style, Pham Ha Duy Khanh’s “Giac mo ban so 2” (Dream of the village No.2) expresses his strong feelings about life in the wild highlands.
From a realistic point of view, Chu Viet Cuong’s “Tay Nguyen” (Central Highlands) and Nguyen Minh Dong’s “Bên rừng” (By the forest) take the audience to a peaceful space with traditional communal houses and tall trees that have been protecting the people of the Central Highlands since the beginning of time, like Mother Nature. Still under the theme of daily moments, life in the Northern mountainous is depicted as simple through the image of a flock of chickens in the work “Sang o Coc Ma” (Morning in Coc Ma) by Nguyen Le Tan, or cozy wooden houses in the middle of a buckwheat field in Nguyen Minh Dong’s “Sương qua bản” (Fog passing through the village). On the same topic of nature, Hue artist Nguyen An has a very different feeling about the rain on the mountains. In his series of paintings “Mua cao nguyen I;II;III” (Rain on the highlands I;II;III), the mountains and forests are elusive in the rain. The rainy season in the mountains seems never-ending, and nature sings its songs throughout the mountain ridges, rivers and streams, and communal houses. The lacquer on paper technique employed for these paintings is also an interesting and different use of this material.
A topic that is so inspiring and expressed via such diverse materials is truly a valuable source of cultural data. The wild and spectacular highlands will always remain an interesting subject for artists who are passionate about preserving our national identity.