Văn Dương Thanh

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I was born into a family of intellectuals in the Tuy-Hoa district of Phu Yen province in southern Vietnam. My father, Van Goi, was vice president of the province. Of all the influences on my life my father contributed the most. Although I only knew him intimately during the period from when I was six to nine years old, his humility, kind-hearted nature and extensive intellectualism have had the most profound impact on my art and my whole life. It is in his memory that I feel I have dedicated my life.

My mother, Nguyen thi Xich, was a traditional Vietnamese woman who devoted her life to her husband and children. Being a young widow alone, she raised all of her children to become academy graduates. With determination to overcome most life difficulties, her personal sacrifice for me and my siblings was unparalleled, unselfish and inspiring.

I paint many portraits of women and mothers with their children to honor her and the sacrifices she endured to provide me with the gift of knowledge and life.

I knew very little of my native village, being only three years old when my family left. However, the impressions of itremain. I still see the flaming sunsets on the sea, the dark green wild pineapple plants of the near by fields and the wooden fishing boats bobbing in the sea just off the village beach.

In 1975, I returned to my native coastal village for the first time in more 20 years. I felt almost as if I didn’t belong and yet I was a child of that village and knew that I did belong there. I wandered down to the beach at twilight and stood there completely overwhelmed by what I saw… there it was, the dark red flaming sunset of my dreams, the sunset I had painted from a vision in my mind’s eye.

It must have been that the eye of the child of three that left the village so many years ago had absorbed that vision and it had always been with me, buried deep in my subconscious. Without knowing its origin, I had always felt that the deep red color of twilight was important to me. I had painted it over and over again in the years since I had last seen the real sun setting over the sea of my village. In my paintings, that cardinal color red has always been an expression of happiness, love and the beauty of the natural world. It has also meant loneliness and reminded me of my own mortality.

When I was 4 years old my father sent for me to join him in Hanoi . While he was at work, I was left in the care of his painter friend. I was most impressed with this man’s passion for painting

When the war came, I was sent away to boarding school. In my letters to my father, I use to enclose small water color drawings. Just about the time I received notice of my father’ death, I received a letter from him expressing his wish that I become a painter… in that letter was a watercolor of a rose that I had sent him two years before

In 1962, the well known Vietnamese sculptor Diep Minh Chau came to my school and took some of my work to be exhibited at the Fine Arts College. Upon his recommendation, I was admitted to the college without even having to

pass the entrance exam.

I studied painting and art for the next twelve years. During the war, we students were often evacuated to the countryside, either hiding out in the tunnels or finding hospice with the peasants of the area. It was during those years that I developed a tremendous empathy with the rural life and the traditions of my country. I shared everything with the peasants… many times going just as hungry as they.

During those years of study and the war, I felt myself change from a graceless girl into a mature woman who was able to survive. I experienced horrors that I care not remember and transferred my fears and anger into expressions of nostalgia and hope to my art.

The sorrow, the bitterness, the numbing sense of emptiness of those years gave me the courage not to give up and the burning desire to make something out of whatever I had. Buddhism and the precepts of Zen are important to me. I believe that the present is but temporary and look to the future with hope. I have not as yet found my own “peace” … inside of me still rages the storm of a searching soul.

When I am painting, I am happiest. I abandon myself to the energy of the act of creating, allowing myself to express freely with color, technique and motif. I and my sense of belonging. Time just slips away and the painting seems to finish itself.

These special moments are rare and fragile. I hope my paintings reflect the Zen spirit and show my love and respect for the memory of my father who wanted me to paint.

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