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Art Critic : On one’s own sweet way by Luong Xuan Doan

I don’t think that the present exhibition of Tran Dinh Khuong is the return to the traditional medium of lacquer. For many years he has been experiencing the mystical, timeless life of lacquer: previously, as a diligent pupil helping his teachers successfully execute the different phases of making a lacquer painting, and later, as an independent artist fully qualified to tread on his own sweet way amidst the boundless world of art.

Now all the sophisticated skills of this difficult artistic medium are no more a challenge to Khuong. Egg shells are ready to soften up and be transformed into gold, silver, vermillion and black lacquer. Strokes in the same rich vein appear as a long breath of calligraphy or China ink painting and it is truly hard to find out where the first spiral streak of the brush stroke has started. The medium melts away, spills or is sharpened but in the finest drawing lines the gentle whiteness of egg shells even shows up, intermingled with the tantalizing glow of gold and silver, no matter whether the metal is soundly buried under several layers of lacquer or suddenly emerges most splendidly on the picture surface.

The Vietnamese village or countryside never fades away in any person’s mind. With Khuong this is a good motive for him to express the affection, the remembrance, the piety of an individual who, though living far from his native village, never forgets the familiar road leading to his grandmother’s pond in which blossom lotus and nenuphar flowers as well as the village festivities or market-place where pastoral songs continually resound throughout the four seasons.
It is not the return to lacquer art, Tran Dinh Khuong has opened up his own way that gently alternates the image of the native with his quiet concentration and meditation within the infinite and empty space of lacquer.

Artist Luong Xuan Doan

Art Critic : The Village Dreamer by Libby Zinman

Not a trained art critic, I am a seasoned lover of beauty. And in Tran Dinh Khuong’s magnificent oils on lacquer, I found a perfect rationale for a lifetime of aesthetic pursuit.

Viewing this exhibit is to repeat Alice’s trip through her looking glass into a world of the author’s imagination. In Carroll’s novel, “ The Adventure of Alice in Wonderland,” the young protagonist wanders through a milieu circumscribed by unique characters, some frightening, some helpful, some bizarre. But the essence of her experience is to escape from the real world into one that is more intriguing, at least to the author himself.

Like Alice, we find in Tran Dinh Khuong’s work a distinctive world, this time a microcosm of Vietnamese village life in which young people fish and wash dishes in the river, children play games, buffaloes romp, and rain falls softly on forest leaves. Using the artist’s imagination and artistic gifts as our guide, we can travel with Tran Dinh Khuong to the village and rediscover the joy of childhood in which every experience is new, fresh and exciting.

There have been other villages in literature and art, but unlike Alice’s “village” of strange characters, the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and smiling Cheshire Cat, or artist Marc Chagall’s Russian village where bridal couples float in the air and clowns and roosters perform for the viewer, Khuong’s village is calm, peaceful and idyllic. Its milieu is bucolic and its colors, reflecting the green of the fields and the deep blue of the rivers invite the viewer to escape with the artist into a fantasia of pleasure and oblivion the secret world of the child where responsibilities are few and enchantment reigns.

Tran Dinh Khuong accomplishes this feat through his artist skills, the delicate and complex technique of applying oil on lacquer, and his capacity to summon the past and give it a universal vision that resonates with every person who has ever experienced the joy – even if momentary – of childhood.

However, Tran Dinh Khuong knows from adult experience that the world of the child is temporary and fleeting. In the exhibit’s painting of a buffalo and a child with a kite, certain to become one day a masterpiece of technique and imagination, the artist renders the soul of the Vietnamese in a single stroke. In the painting, Khuong splits the personality of the Vietnamese people in tow: in the upper left hand corner, the gentle child, the village dreamer, twister in the tail of his kite, whirling upside down in the sky-or is it the universe? – gifted, artistic, playful, without a care. And in the lower right hand corner of the painting, a buffalo, ancient symbol of labor and friendship, the usually affectionate buffalo now an angry one, his eye staring fiercely at you, the viewer, communicating his fury, his powerful bulk suggesting conquest over all his enemies.

The artist has made a statement that transports us far from the peaceful village of fishing children, endless games and serenity. He draws upon history to tell us that this world reflects only one half of the Vietnamese soul, one half of its experience. Throughout history, at war and under occupation, the Vietnamese have also had to defend with their blood an extraordinary universe, grounded in maternal love and lullabies, extended family and loyal friends, gentle buffaloes, songs and games.

The artist is mindful that to present only the one side of the Vietnamese personality it to deprive it of its depth and strength, its tragedy and its heroism, its greatness and its sorrow.

Like Lewis Carroll and Marc Chagall before him, Tran Dinh Khuong’s artistic vision is not one dimensional. His paintings span the stages of life, the nature of work and relationships, peace and war. He is an urban painter, preoccupied with the pastoral tradition of his youth, perhaps, as he says, “…from my visits to the countryside with my father and brother when I was six…”

His preoccupied is our gift and Khuong found his medium to express it in lacquer, “…something that reflects the Vietnamese soul and identity, the depth and intricacies of Vietnamese people, I want to master it at any cost.”

Born in 1972 and graduated from the Hanoi Institute of Industrial Arts in 1995, Tran Dinh Khuong quickly emerged as an artist to watch in the Asian Art Scene. He has exhibited widely and his works grace collections across continents.
He is only 34 years of age.

Libby Zinman – Schwartz

Art Critic : The Return by Bui Nhu Huong

Living in the city’s noisy and stuffy surroundings and witnessing the messy and hurried changes of present-day life in the course of irresistible globalization, Tran Dinh Khuong – like many other contemporary artists seem to rediscover peace of mind through the return to his real self or, to be more precise, to the peaceful atmosphere of the Vietnamese countryside that is full of the souvenirs of his sweet and fanciful childhood.
In fact, the native village offers an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Khuong’s art. The poetic, serene beauty of a wharf, a boat, a lotus pond, a cluster of banana trees as well as the seasonal changes in which nature is a real symphony of perfume and colors such as the season of lotus flowers, rice seedlings replanting time, the approach of autumn or winter, etc, all this is apt to evoke pastoral and lyrical melodies or inspire subtle artistic feelings that invite and prompt the painter to create works of art

Tran Dinh Khuong paints with his zealous and relentless nostalgia for the Vietnamese countryside and deep human feelings as well. A range of simple, bright, innocent, joyful and witty feelings is then expressed through the themes of childhood: buffalo and cow herding, crab and fish catching, playing children’s “game of squares” or through themes depicting plain and gentle rural scenery e.g. going to market, picking lotus flowers, honoring Buddha at the pagoda… The artist all pictured all them in monumental, brilliant, eye-catching compositions with the rhythm of contemporary, decorative design and the warm, splendid color scheme of the Vietnamese traditional and very original lacquer medium.

Sometimes Khuong’s pictures attract us by the artist’s childlike funny and liberal view: he painted them while glancing from the top downwards or from the back or occasionally from the tour directions, which gives rise to his novel, multidirectional compositions rich in creative, impromptu inspiration. His language of expression is lively, vivid, imbued with decorative and conventional character, an influence inherited from Vietnamese traditional folk art. This characteristic feature has personalized Tran Dinh Khuong’s art, made it easy to be identified and enhanced its national character. At the same time this is proof of a quite vigorous tendency in Vietnamese painting in the period of DOIMOI: artists now tend to revert to the nation’s origins by exploiting the spirit of folk art the village culture.

Could it be that this is the profound meaning and message the Tran Dinh Khuong would like to convey to his friends and art lovers through his present solemn and lacquer paintings exhibition entitled “ the Memories of Childhood”?

Bui Nhu Huong – art Critic