Bui Xuan Phai in his son’s eyes [Part 6]

The only speech of Bui Xuan Phai delivered in public
Phai was famous for being quite, gentle and humble. He has never been seen to speak eloquently and loudly in public. Early this year, I looked for his speech delivered in the closing ceremony of Bui Xuan Phai Exhibition in my documents and found it. It was the first and only speech in his life to be delivered in public. Its content is as follows:
Dear all,
I am pleased to meet you today in an early day of year. Another Spring has come.
It is also to day when my art exhibition is closed and once more, I have a chance to participate in a peer talk held by Vietnam Visual Art Association.
One month elapsed. My dream has almost become true. I am very pleased to see that my art exhibition is a great success.
I have thought much of the responsibility of an artist. I am getting older and weaker. In turn, I become more mature in my career, become knowledgeable and gain a lot of experience in the field of art.
I have thought much of my peers who thoroughly understand art. Although I do not have many friends like that, I find that I have some more every day. And it was their ideas that made me think a lot about the way I am going.
I think that artists should have qualification of both career and art. Art and life merge into each other to create a works.
Finally, I remain my belief that the passion for art is an essential factor to develop the talent.
Dear all,
Thank you for participating in the meeting today.
I am sorry for my mistakes, shortcomings during and after the exhibition. finally, I would like to send my thank to leaders of culture sector at different levels, Vietnam Visual Artists Association and all of my relatives and friends who have helped me a lot in successfully developing the art exhibition.
I wish you a happy and effective new year and hope that you would create many interesting and beautiful paintings. That’s all.
Phai

Fortune and fame are just like floating cloud, Only love remains with life
On 22nd December 1984, painter Bui Xuan Phai was sponsored by Vietnam Visual Artists Association to hold his first and only personal exhibition during his art life. During the 6 month of preparation, Phai share with his friends: “This important event makes me fell both pleased and worried. I prevented me from sleeping every night”
The exhibition opening ceremony was considered an “untie” day to Phai given the initial stage of the renovation policy made by the Party and State.  For the first time, an entire broadcasting program was held by Vietnam Television in order to introduce the life and works of Phai. Since then, the talented painter Bui Xuan Phai, who, during his all life, worked very hard and quietly in art for his love to Hanoi, became popular with all people in and outside Vietnam through articles in newspapers.  His reputation started to spread widely across the world.
Every 22nd December, Phai and his family invited his relatives and friends to his party, marking the anniversary of the important event marking a turning point in his career. Regretfully, Phai could only organize another 3 parties, because he died in 24th June 1988.
On this occasion, I would like to talk about the paintings sold in this art exhibition:
108 works were exhibited in the exhibition (oil paintings, pastels and woodcut paintings). Right in the opening ceremony, 24 paintings were sold. 4 oil paintings were bought by Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts. Another 2 oil paintings “Ban Nhac Cong Cheo” (Group of Vietnam Traditional Opera Executants) and “Truoc Gio Bieu Dien” (Before Show) were bought by the Collectors Group of Vietnam Fine Arts Association. Noticeably, the art exhibition was attended by cultural attaché of France Embassy Mr. Patrice Jorland. He also specially admired Phai for his talent. Early in the opening ceremony, he bought 12 oil paintings. So far, that had been an art exhibition in Hanoi in which most paintings were sold.
The representative of Vietnam Fine Arts Association, before opening time, pasted the association’s cards in to the paintings they had bought. After the exhibition, these two traditional opera paintings were transferred to the Association. However, neither Phai nor his family had been given the amount paid for the paintings. I also asked the person in charge of the Association about that. He said that because of the change in currency system made by the State of Vietnam, the Association’s fund for painting collection had to stop its operation since it no longer had money. It has been a long time so far. Recently, I have learned that the Vietnam Fine Arts Association re-sold the two mentioned paintings to Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts.  An Association member told that, the amount had been used to support the Association’s members facing difficulties.
In that exhibition, 4 oil paintings were bought by Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts. At that time, the Museum bought painting based on an available norm; no matter by whom the paintings were created, they were paid at the same price. Each painting was paid VND 20, 000 on average. At that time, any artist who had paintings bought by the Museum considered it a great gift and honor. Although their paintings were bought based on an available norm with very low prices, they were very pleased then, because very few people bought their paintings.
Hang Tre Street painting was also bought by the Museum. Although the Museum had taken the painting, it did not pay for it immediately. A short time later, only when it was said that the State planed to change the currency system did the Museum pay for the painting. It asked its employees to urge the artist’s relatives to come and receive the amount. I clearly remember that I was paid VND 20,000 for that painting. The following day, the State implemented currency system change with the rate 10: 1, that meant the amount was only worth VND 2,000 then. It was the precursor of VND 2,000 banknote today. Today, with VND 2,000, you can only buy a cup of tea in a street in Hanoi.
At that time, these issues were also discussed. I know that Phai was afraid of troubles. In addition, he never wanted to talk about trading of his works. He often called them “Ly Tai” (name of a Chinese trader in the past). One of his friends who was a poet read a poem to encourage him. It had a verse meaning Fortune and fame are just like floating cloud, Only love remains with life.

“If two people are predestined for each other, they will find each other despite distance and time”
In the opening ceremony of Bui Xuan Phai art exhibition on the occasion of his 90th birthday (1st September 2010), I said some words to participants. That was the first time I spoke in public. I was afraid of it and did not like it at all. However, when I discussed the method of organizing Bui Xuan Phai art exhibition with the Management Board of Goethe Institute before, I, a descendant of painter Bui, was required to speak in the opening ceremony. As a result, I had no other choice but to do so. It was said that, I was so awkward and embarrassed when I was speaking, which was quite different from my way of speaking in feast (I spoke confidently then).
Dear all,
First of all, on behalf of my family, I would like to convey my thanks to you for your attendance at the opening ceremony of Bui Xuan Phai art exhibition. I would like to thank Management Board of Goethe Institute, Vietnam Fine Arts Association, collectors Bui Quoc Tri and Tran Hau Tuan, those who, together with us, have contributed to forming this exhibition.
I want to talk more about the predestination between Phai and Germany inadequately mentioned by the Director. There were four things:
First: It was the first international gold medal awarded to Phai in his life. It was an international award for painting category, awarded by Germany. In that year, an international books fair was held in Germany. Phai sent his supplements illustrating the book He Cheo to compete in the fair. And he was awarded gold medal for these works.
Second: Several months after Phai was awarded the medal by Germany, in the same year, Phai reached his retirement age. Under the retirement mechanism then, an artist, before his retirement, shall enjoy a two-week travel to Germany. Germany was the first and only foreign country that Phai had chance to travel to in his life.
Third: It was white paint tubes made in Germany. Anyone who are an artist know that, in Phai’s time, there were three main types of paint, including those made in Russia, China and Germany. To Phai, Russian paint was very hard, Chinese one was very loose. Of the three main paint types available in the market then, the German one was his most favorite one. I affirm that almost all of his oil paintings created from 1970s until he died used German paint. It can be said that, white paint tubes made in Germany contributed to forming the painting style of Bui Xuan Phai.
It is this exhibition that is the fourth thing relating to predestination between Phai and Germany I want to mention. I thought a lot about this and find that the predestination is so mysterious. Someone asked me why I do not hold the exhibition in other places than Goethe Institute. I cannot explain, just feel it by a premonition. It seems to be programmed in advance. And I believe that Germany and Phai had known each other previously.
Thank you very much and please watch the paintings.

Bui Xuan Phai used to have the nickname SIPI 
May be Phai’s oldest painting was created in 1948 in a war base. It was a self-portrait created by iron pen using China ink signed with the nickname SIPI, dated 12th March 1948. In right corner of the painting was a dedication “Dear Viet Ho, I present you Sipi’s self-portrait. When Sipi is not with you, You should remember him and wish him good health so that he can dedicate to art.
The artist presented this painting was a learner of an autumn-winter painting class in the war instructed by Phai. Now he became a slow and blur-eyed man at the age of 80, the old artist Luu Ly. People and time changed. 60 years passed. Experiencing various unrest of the time, the original painting remains clear with all lines, color gamut, with subtle flavor of history and breath of the author. Listen to Luu Ly’s words about how he has respected and kept the painting: “In rainy days when it was cold and windy, I put this painting in the warmest area. When I had to carry it in the rain, I would cover it by leaving my body suffer from rain and coldness to protect this precious painting”.
Oh! What a courageous and romantic artist; and what a persistent and passionate preserver! Art can exist thanks to not only the talent of artist, but also the heart of people! After 60 years, through various ups and downs as well as changes of the history, this painting has become the treasure of artist Luu Ly. Since, to him, it was a great nostalgia given to him by the master artist, and was a fortune in his life!
When being asked why Phai signed his paintings with the nick name SIPI, the guy Luu Ly replied “Phai told me that Sipi is an abbreviation from the nickname of an aircraft of French military. Once in the air is a fiery Speed Fire, Sipi Phai in the earth is burning with his art!”
It is known that, many collectors have sought artist Luu Ly and tried to persuade the old artist to re-sell them the self-portrait. However, all of them were rejected. Recently, after keeping the painting for a long time, the old artist found that he was very old and may die anytime. So he decided to give it to a skilled collector who has collected paintings of all famous artists in his most prestigious private collection in Vietnam.

Watching Bui Xuan Phai portrays
Painter Bui Xuan Phai was highly admired by friends and fellows for his skillfulness and polish in the area of portray, not as in the ancient street of Hanoi as people thought.
Of thousands portraits by Bui Xuan Phai, all deeply expressed the characteristic and appearance of each person without reiteration. In each portrait painting of Bui Xuan Phai, people realized that it was made by master drawing which was fine and polish and it seemed to understand deep inside the soul and mind, exposing the characteristic of each person, from illiterate farmer, fat militia girl, the old and red-eye lady selling vegetable on the street to the painting collector and writer…All these portrays can be easily understood by the viewer without seeing the title.
People who lived at the same age with Bui Xuan Phai still remember about parties with his presence. As usual, people usually gave him a white cloth or paper with brush. It was the most expected moment of the party. Every people, all of them are painter (it never happens now), were gathered around to see him portray. Bui Xuan Phai did it quick and surprised people by the resemblance and liveliness. It was great honor for those who were chosen as model. At the end of the party, as portray finished, it was given to the host of the party. If that party was in Bui Xuan Phai’s place, the portrait would be given to a guest woman.
I still remember some of girlfriends who had been invited to my house during those days. Now, their children are grown up, even some of them are grandmothers. Every time I met them, they excitingly recalled such memories with gratitude for the portrait given by Bui Xuan Phai. Some of them proudly shown that they still kept the painting of the painter until today, but some, due to hard circumstances, could not fight again the strike of the collectors, had to sell them. I have been told by friends a lot of sad stories about the separation with the painter’s keepsake in tears and inconsolable regret.

Buy one, get two for free
Today, Natasha visits and talks about her plan to organize an exhibition of paintings collection of Vietnamese painter that Natasha collected from 1980s, 1990s of the previous century.
This is very interesting and respectable intention. Natasha opened her camera to show some of my paintings in this period. It was quite a long time and my artistic point of view has been changed according to each period of life. Generally, as seeing the paintings that I made from beginning the journey of the artistic life, I was not contented. These paintings were heavily influenced by Phai’s class. But they had belonged to Natasha. If I still keep them, they would be absolutely blanked. I told Natasha: “Their values are to hold the trace of the past, I do it differently now”. I shown my disappointment and did not want Natasha to display them in the exhibition that she was planning. I did not know whether she agreed or not but I thought that as painters still alive, they have the right to express their ideas about their work and they might agree or not to take part in the public exhibition.
Natasha is the wife of the late painter Vu Dan Tan. They have a gallery at 30 Hang Bong street named Salon Natasha. It can be said that this is the first private gallery in Hanoi. Salon Natasha was established in 1990. Before that time, from 1981, only Phuong’s paintings were presented in this gallery for the reason that Phuong’s paintings were loved by Vu Dan Tan and he encouraged Phuong to send paintings for him to introduce to foreign customer for sale. So it can be said that Phuong is the first painter to work with Salon Natasha.
After talking about the exhibition that Natasha is planning, story goes to  Bui Xuan Phai. Everywhere, every meeting or party, if there is someone who lived in the same age or met or knew painter Bui Xuan Phai, stories about him are excitingly told.
Natasha had recalled her memories with Bui Xuan Phai: I still kept all the paintings that he given to me or bought from him. As having friends visited, I shown them Phai’s painting collection and asked them to select the best one. The interesting thing was that they always chose the best paintings that Bui Xuan Phai gave to me for free as I bought painting from him. At that time, Bui Xuan Phai was compassionate about me because I was poor, but I did not want to receive gift painting from him. So every time I visit him I manage to buy a small painting. Every time, before I left, Bui Xuan Phai told me: “Wait for me, I will give you a painting”. The painting that he gave me for free was always nicer and more expensive than the one I bough.

A story about Phai’s street 
Since 1956, after getting involved with Nhân văn- giai phẩm affair, Bui Xuan Phai has been banned to compose. His name was not allowed to appear in the papers in this period. To earn his living, Bui Xuan Phai had to used different names such as Vi Vu, Pi Ha, Ly, Pha Y signed in the paintings and comics in the newspapers that time.
From 1950 to 1962, in his lacquer works, he often used the signature with full name BUI XUAN PHAI.
By 1980, he seemed to find the most stable and suitable style for him. Since then, no more change has been made in his signature.
In the early 1960s, writer Nguyen Tuan had punned, borrowing the ancient name of Hoi An which was Phai Pho to change it to Phai Pho (Phai’s street). It had become the word of mouth of people calling his paintings about Hanoi as Phai’s street. Which one is more famous, Phai Pho or Pho Phai? It had been integrated into his works accidentally, because Phai Pho (Phai’s street), for French speaking people, it would be understood as fake painting of Phai: Phai faux (faux in French means fake). And the rumor goes that Phai had been painted a lot, but after his death, “Phai faux” also pained a lot more. Bui Xuan Phai is the most famous painter of Viet Nam. He is also the victim of the fake paintings. People said that his art had kept alive and made fortune for many people after his death in 1988 by lung cancer.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the art connoisseur had changed his name to: Buồn Xuân Pho (sad spring street), because street in his painting was desolate and sad, like an unmanned ancient city. Many of his street paintings were depicted with solitary, silence and dolefulness. Not until the end of his life, in 1980s, did his painting positive. Warm color of sun and red cloth passing street were started to appear. People supposed that the big success of his first private exhibition in 1984 had great influence in his creativity inspiration: the feeling of being convicted had been fully untied and released. For the first time in that year, his life and works had been broadcasted nationwide in Central Television.
Along with such changes, there was an accident like fate had attached the work of Bui Xuan Phai with word and name Phai Pho (Phai’s street). In 1981, Phai has been sent to Quảng Nam- Đà Nẵng. As he set foot in Hoi An, he was surprised by the fascinating beauty of Hoi An street. It was totally different with those in Hanoi that he painted before. Because of having no winter here so the sky is always blue and the sun is spreading out all streets. This greatly affected his view and artistic concept which were ancient streets of Hanoi in winter time with heavy and leaden sky. Since that year, his street paintings had been changed to lighter colors, less desolate and lonesome. His streets now have more people. Turquoise was applied more often than grey as previously.
One more meaningful thing is that after he died, Đà Nẵng was the first city to name Bui Xuan Phai for a street.
By 1980s, it seemed that his street paintings wanted to say goodbye with Grey and Brown period. Another thing that influenced his style in this turquoise period was that during the end years of his life (from 1980 to 1988), all of his children had grown up and independent, so the economic burden was lifted. The country was started to change to renovation period. At the same time, foreign customer was allowed to visit his workshop and buy his paintings. It can be said that, during the end years of his life, the work of Bui Xuan Phai had been in the hand of customer right after finished.

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