A painter who ‘picks up pebbles’ of life

VietNamNet Bridge – Le Tri Dung‘s horses have acquired human dimensions and emotions, and the painter turns writer as he listens to them intently, filling up page after page, writes Cao Minh.

A work by painter Le Tri Dung.

Le Tri Dung is both a renowned painter who specialises in painting horses and an author recognised for deep musings that are encapsulated in three books.

Dung’s studio is filled with large oil paintings of horses viewed from different angles, as well as paintbrushes and colouring materials. The painter has also held onto his special possessions from his time as a soldier during the war, such as his belt and backpack. Lying on the floor of the room are pebbles of different sizes, shapes and colours, which he has picked up throughout his journey in life.

Inherited talent

Dung inherited his talent for painting from his father, artist Le Quoc Loc, who was bestowed with the Ho Chi Minh prize for literature and art. However, his father did not want him to follow in his footsteps as a painter but preferred a career as a lawyer or doctor for his son. Despite his initial resistance to this career path chosen by his son, Dung’s father was eventually convinced to support him after witnessing his passion, especially in painting horses. Dung’s father ultimately agreed to become his painting teacher.

In 1972, when Dung was a fourth-year student at the Ha Noi Fine Arts College, he joined the military in response to President Ho Chi Minh’s call for the country’s defence against the American war. Despite his military service, Dung’s passion for art continued to burn within him. A paintbrush was always tucked inside the tank soldier’s backpack even while on the battlefield, amidst intense fighting. Living in a war zone for five years, he continually sketched the most memorable moments of the struggle for national independence, and of course, he continued creating horse paintings.

Dung’s passion for horses comes through in his paintings.

Dung’s interest in painting horses has been inspired by his passion for the creatures, which have been showcased in many of Viet Nam’s art events and rituals.

Dung has spent a lot of time reading stories, studying pictures and watching documentaries about horses. He has fallen in love with the different breeds of horses from all over the world – from the Red Hare of Lu Bu of the Eastern Han dynasty to the large European horses and the small horse breeds of Viet Nam. He even took part in an equine anatomy class to gain deeper understanding of the horses he found incredibly fascinating.

Dung is also immensely creative in painting the horses, using diverse forms to mirror his personal style. Most of his horse paintings are created on traditional do (poonah) paper. He also strives to reflect the horses’ vigor and recklessness in his pieces.

“After years of painting the horses, my creations are no longer simply animals. Instead, they are incarnated into human beings with human feelings and sensations,” Dung revealed.

The horses that Dung creates inspire feelings of freedom and recklessness in those who look at the pieces.

“I draw horses that are loudly whinnying and standing on their hind legs, sometimes flying to the sun and sometimes galloping in the rain or amidst wild weeds,” he explained. “The horses reflect my emotions and my ideas about life,” he added.

Each of his horse paintings appears to be a portrait of a real human being with character and spirit.

Dung inherited his painting talent from his father.

Dung has also been lauded for his talent in writing short stories about the war and his insights about life. Within seven years, he wrote more than 1,000 pages for three successive books with the same title, “Nhung Hon Cuoi Nhat Doc Duong” (The pebbles I picked up along my way).

I will write until there is no pebble left to pick up,” he said.

Moreover, the late Professor Hoang Ngoc Hien described Tri Dung as an excellent author of short stories about the war.

Dung writes to unwind, as well as to share his views about his life, career and the hidden aspects of the war. Composer Tran Huy Quang once noted, “Dung writes about the comradeship and way of life during the war. His writing also reflects his way of making sense of his experiences in life.”

The three books written by Dung also demonstrate his gratefulness for the good times life has rewarded him, as well as to invigorate his mind amidst his hectic schedule.

About the artist

Le Tri Dung was born in 1949, at around the same time that his parents left Ha Noi for the countryside to avoid the height of the battle for independence against the French troops.

In 1972, Dung joined the army and served as a tank soldier until 1977.

In 1990, he was awarded a Silver Medal at the National Fine Arts Exhibition.

Dung’s private collections have been shown in countries, including the United States, Singapore and Japan.

He is a lecturer at Ha Noi Industrial Fine Art College, Ha Noi Arts College and Ha Noi Open University.


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