Artist Dao Hai Phong : Life should not be seen with “black” artistic vision


Artist Dao Hai Phong – an outstanding character of Vietnamese Fine Arts and Paintings since the end of decade 1990 revealed his meditations on Vietnamese Fine Arts and Paintings in the near future. He also expressed much of his suspicions over identities of modern Vietnamese paintings.

Potrait Artist Dao Hai Phong

Artist Dao Hai Phong

Although it was a period of economic downturn for the year 2012, in particular, there have been numerous individual fine art exhibitions held by many young artists. This shows a positive sign in the activity of art. How do you feel about exhibitions you have visited and artists you have spoken with?

Well, it might take me several hours to answer this question thoroughly ( he smiled ). Actually, I have visited many exhibitions by young artists. I watched how they work in the field of art. In a more accurate sense, I would like to know how they thought about art and society through their personal creativity. I was happy to see they got good working conditions with large sized paintings, large quantities and large exhibition openings. I was even happier to see a lot of young artists dedicated to fine arts. However, I got to think over and over about what they have been doing and demonstrating. I don’t know why they must look at life with such “black” artistic vision. Why must they draw such a scene in which many people were trying hard to push a Rolls Royce in flood? Why were tons of ugly electric wires brought into no less ugly exhibition space just to speak of Hanoi streets nowadays? What about call girls and a life of debauchery?…

You wondered and you haven’t found the answer yet, have you?

I have thought twice and kept making assumptions. Clearly enough, only the artist himself exactly knows the answer.

So, you can continue making your assumptions? Perhaps you might find that their art is talking totally different stories from yours and the one you don’t like. Is the generation gap a matter of fact?

The matter might be broader than my narrow personal taste. Sometimes I happened to read grudging looks in the eyes of my colleagues towards me while I was in some exhibitions. Did they feel unfair that they have done a lot to the society but failed to be as widely accepted and famous as our generation in the past? Broader viewing, this is currently the era of consumption culture, but the era of highly appreciated spiritual values like ever before. You see, previously, when the whole society was faced with hardship, those who loved paintings and collecting like Mr. Lam Café, Mr. Bong, Mr. Duc Minh still existed. Their reputation in the society synchronized with their life, not only when they die did the society start to recognize. Today, why don’t these collectors live in big big houses or super class apartments? The society is rushing towards fake and monstrous things that are mistaken as noble. Perhaps those grudging eyes by the young were not only meant for me but also for their society in general. In fact they are victims to a society of material and nominal fame.

But if we look at them from the side of societal reflection, have they been going in the right way?

Maybe yes. But personally I believe this: if art merely reflects society, it is not art – it is timely art, not real art. Would you like to hang the painting of people pushing that Rolls Royce in your house? Would you like to bring those black electric wires to place in your living room? Absolutely no. I think that the mission of paintings is to be kept and saved for long. And therefore, both beauty and love should be filled within. Art should be superior to mere shame. If the young just talk about shame, where will they take Vietnamese Fine Arts to?

IF I HAVE MONEY, I WILL COLLECT TWO THINGSLooking at the list of items that make a convenient and happy life, you are likely to have enough: a beautiful large house on the street, beautiful wife, two smart sons, sufficient income,… But if you have sufficient financial ability to collect Vietnamese paintings, what will you collect?

I will collect two things: the first is all artworks in the struggle against the America, especially sketches. The second is fine arts from the beginning of Innovation Period to the year 2000. I am connected to the concept that lots of songs in the wartime were so beautiful. Have you heard the song “Lekima Flower Boom Season” composed by Nguyen Duc Toan? The sorrowful and indignant story was cleverly transformed into a pure and beautiful song. For me, that is real art.

So your own definition of art values is beauty, purity and romance; which is close to traditional beauties of Vietnamese culture. But when I see you, I don’t think you belong to traditional culture?

The outer appearance is just an aspect of my characteristics. I belong to the precedent generation, draw with a plenty of memories, nostalgia, attachment to the past and my own imagination. I still remember once I followed my dad to produce a film in a fish village. The sky was blue, so was the sea. It was calm and spacious; the further, the harder to distinguish the colors of sea and sky… That spacious blue appeared quite often in my paintings, releasing a space where there was no separation between sky and land… And yes the romantic beauty of Vietnam home villages in my childhood memories when I had to evacuate in time of war… No matter how many paintings about this, I have never felt enough.

Aren’t you afraid that that source of memories will be worn out someday?

No, I’m just afraid that someday my passion for art will dry out. This is natural, I can’t try to stick to it. So for me, a comment on paintings, whether it is a compliment or an encouragement, is as important as the purchase of my painting. All these things give me much emotion for the job. I draw less to seek a greater depth and refinement.

Are you correcting yourself?(He smiled) It is exaggerating to say so. I’m just adjusting myself.

You have been to many places all over the world, from creative camps to resorts. Those journeys are not merely for enjoyment to an artist, are they?

Well, you are right. The reason I travel a lot is just to compare and observe cultural position of our country and my personal art works in this big big world. Vietnam is a small country. And the previous generations built quite a lot of beauties full of Viet spirits in ancient cultural heritages. If we are able to preserve those heritages, maybe we will be much richer than now. And thus, our cultural life will be less smeared.

For me, I am proud as our generation together made a face of Viet Fine Arts that is differentiated from all, no miscellaneity of any European, Chinese or Japanese ones… like the direction that cunning young artists are heading towards. I am a petal of water-fern in a village pond of Viet Fine Arts but I am what I was meant to be. I belong to my own pond. It is happiness.

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