Lotus painter follows silky path to blossom

Choosing painting over more lucrative careers seems to have paid off for a Hanoian artist who uses images of lotuses to create intricate commentary on the human condition.
Choosing painting over more lucrative careers seems to have paid off for a Hanoian artist who uses images of lotuses to create intricate commentary on the human condition.

Pham Quoc Tuan has tried many careers, but he finds himself drawn most to painting. For him, depicting lotuses on silk is a way to capture the essence of true art.

Tuan keeps most of his paintings in an unpretentious room at his apartment in Vong Duc Street. Wooden tea trays and handmade lanterns create a sense of serenity, instilling every corner with the aroma of a meditation room.

"Home is where the heart is. Living here, I feel like I can forget myself and give the whole me to my art," said Tuan.

Only in his early 30s, Tuan has developed a perspective on life and art. He has worked in many career fields, some of which offered fortunes that others would find it hard to pass up. Today, however, art is his only motivation.

"It's easy to become a slave to money. When you overcome that obsession, though, you can see the value of tranquility," said Tuan.

This man nurtures an odd love for lotuses. For the last five years, most of his paintings have featured the plant.

"Luan hoi" (Samsara), a set of four multicoloured lotuses, uses lotuses to depict the life cycle. "The vivid colours and mysterious circles reflect the evolutionary process and natural phenomena. When I put them under the electric light, the veins of leaves resurface clearly, inspiring strong compassion and emotion from viewers," Tuan said.

His painting "Tuyet Lien" (Snow Lotus), a white lotus painted in the middle of smooth silk, is a metaphor for the "rare feeling of freshness in the painter's heart".

The silk painting trend is a way to review the old and understand the new. A single brush stroke on the silk surface, like a blow from a Samurai warrior, is a deceptively complex act. A painter must listen to his hand's weight and then create a careful line.

Tuan often waxes philosophical on the differences between Eastern and Western arts. "All art intends to create emotion in the viewer," he said. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In my opinion, Western art is like many kinds of science. Classical Western art tends towards rationalism and standardisation. In order to pursue art as a profession, it is a must to learn topography and anatomy. However, modern art now has a new face, one that is more abstract and surrealist.

"In Eastern art, the individual character is taken seriously. The coloured background is light and the image of the real world absorbs into the painter's mind. You have to penetrate deeply into these two art forms to mix them together cleverly."

The artist is a huge fan of Chinese artists like Qi Baishi and Xu Beihong. In each of their paintings, he feels the inner spirit of natural living beings. "This mystic kind of stroke is not easy to learn like the 'ngu cung' (pentatonic music scale) of the East," he said. "I used to work in architecture, art and fashion, so I applied what I learned with space and proportion to designing clothes. I also put the image of the lotus into each ao dai design, so that it could contain both Western and Eastern style."

In 2011, Tuan co-organised the ao dai show "Quoc Sac Thien Huong" (National Beauty) with the Vietnam Women's Union and the Vietnam Women's Museum, which displayed hundreds of garments. Tuan will create another ao dai show at Miss AdAsia 2013 as well as an exhibition of hundreds of lotus silk paintings at the 28th Asian Advertising Congress, held from November 11 to 14. He will put a poem about lotuses on each painting.

While lotuses are a common theme in his current work, his life philosophy is not easy to put into a box. It seems that the artist is committed to exploring all possible avenues of creativity, wherever they might lead. "My favourite quote is 'The road is made by walking'. I will continue working as an artist based on that idea," said Tuan.-VNA

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