Le Thanh Minh

Nguyen Quy Duc Published on 4/1/96 on Things Asian

At forty, Le Thanh Minh is already an accomplished painter. After three years of training at the School of Fine Arts in Hanoi, he spent a further five years in Moscow, studying and graduating from its prestigious arts institute. He has had one-man and group exhibitions in Paris (1983), Berlin (1984), St. Petersburg (back in 1987 when it was still called Leningrad), and Moscow (1993).

Le Thanh Minh has also sold his work to collectors from dozens of countries from Poland to Peru, from France and Sweden to Austria, Germany and Turkey. Of course, visitors to Hanoi from nearer countries have also bought many of his paintings. Several Hanoi gallery owners say his paintings are popular with visitors from Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong.

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Le Thanh Minh claims to have been interested in painting as a child. “As an adult,” he says, “I am hoping to develop my own voice further.”

There is no doubt that he remains among the most unique of painters from Hanoi. He exhibits none of the self-absorption that often colors the paintings of other artists. His oil paintings are classic scenes reminiscent of what was taught under the French in the twenties and thirties at the Ecole des Beaux Arts de L’Indochine. Minh’s canvases consist mainly of realistic portraits, groups of women in traditional clothes, and flowers that contain a fluidity dating back to the traditions of the masters of the time.

Le Than Minh’s nude paintings earned him the name “Minh Con Gai,” “Female Minh,” before he took off for Moscow. His nudes are particular for they don’t merely represent the classical female human form. Rather, the nudes are often caught in the act of showering or bathing, representing a desire to purify, even when one is already near the apex of beauty.

It isn’t a coincidence that he has selected to give his paintings rather common names. There is nothing philosophical or pretentious in names such as The Yellow Squash, Morning Dew and Traditional Wine. Minh says he is concerned with maintaining the beauty of the female form, but at the same time, not glorifying it.

It is more important to me that the beauty of the women I paint can blend in with the beauty of the surroundings,” Minh says, pointing at the subtle colors and details he used for leaves, forests or the reflection of the moon on a river.

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It is his paintings on Vietnamese bark paper, giay do, that set him apart. They are pastels of light green and gray, the color of moss conveying an old-world sentiment. They are dotted with delicate flowers, hands and exquisite nudes. Such elements are common in the work of many Vietnamese painters, but Le Thanh Minh paints them with images of the Buddha, and allows them to take part in a clever dialogue about the spiritual and the material world.

I have been thinking about these themes for a long time,” he says. “Three, four years. They may look simple, but there is a lot in them. Most people in Vietnam don’t even know what it is I am trying to express.”

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