Le Thanh Minh

That is an odd statement, for the expression in Le Thanh Minh’s paintings are informed by an Eastern sense of aesthetics. There are large expanses of space in his tableaux, and details are exquisitely rendered in minute dimensions. The Buddhist notions are also very apparent. How does Buddhism deal with the good and evil? In one painting depicting a serene Buddha sitting in front of a spider web, Le Thanh Minh presents us with a choice: A fly is caught in the web. To remove the fly is to save its life. But that also means to destroy the living environment of the spider.Other paintings by Le Thanh Minh further portray Buddhist concerns: birth, childhood, sickness, suffering, aging, death. The paintings may be strange to Vietnamese collectors who normally prefer a purer sense of aesthetics leaving philosophical discourse to other fields than fine arts. But foreigners are drawn to Le Thanh Minh’s classical lines and near-perfect renderings of the human forms. His attention to details is also greatly appreciated. His questions about one’s proper conduct in life are raised with subtlety.

What is extraordinary about human life is expressed through the use of ordinary objects. And the spacial relationships of all objects take on an unexpected importance. As Minh says, “The images are also the background, the background is also a part of the painting. Everything must be balanced.”

Following an exhibition in Moscow in 1993, the critic Nguyen Chi wrote of the artist: “Le Thanh Minh has studied with a serious and respectful attitude the philosophies, aesthetics and fine arts of Asia. He speaks openly, sometimes loudly, but as a writer he would be a poet. As a painter, he has found a bright horizon for himself. His paintings express a serious sense of harmony, his compositions are sure-footed, yet fluid and calming.”

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Le Thanh Minh knows that some Vietnamese art collectors do not appreciate his work. “For now, I am happy with the foreign collectors,” he says. “They are able to discover details in my paintings that normally escape the eyes of casual art buyers.”

Le Thanh Minh sees in the increasing number of visitors to Vietnam disadvantages as well as advantages. “Obviously, there is a multi-faceted arts scene in Vietnam now in response to the number of tourists and art collectors from abroad. They are raising the standards of living of the people and the artists. We are able to afford larger canvases, more paints, we don’t have to work at other jobs to sustain ourselves.”

On the other hand, many people are fooled into buying paintings by mediocre artists. “There is a lot of copying. Gold is mixed with brass, and people without training are turning out work in a mass production method. They are only painting what sells.”

In the end, that situation will change, Le Thanh Minh claims. “People will be more selective. The open communications with the world will also bring in new ideas. It is still difficult for Vietnamese artists to go and learn abroad, but we are absorbing quite a lot in the last years. There is a perpetual need for exchanges of ideas.”

Le Thanh Minh, who has traveled to several countries in Europe following his years in Moscow, now has a new dream: “It would be great to go to the United States. I paint about the spiritual world. Where else can I go but to a materialistic society?”

Exhibitions:

Paris-1983

Berlin-1984

Leningrad-1987

Moscow-1993

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