(No.6, Vol.8,Dec 2018-Jan 2019 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
Pham Huy Thong
Heading Home. 2018
Oil on canvas. 140 x 160 cm
Oil on canvas. 130 x 180 cm
If you love your country and its traditions, it follows you will deeply care for the environment. The environment is what creates and forges our culture. Pham Huy Thong is one artist who is acutely aware of this. For the third time, I was able to enjoy a preview of an exhibition of his entitled ‘Hope Full’ at the Craig Thomas Gallery. This one concentrates on landscapes and agriculture superbly incorporating realism, fantasy and allegory and ran from the 2 until the 21 of November of this year. The artist himself,having travelled down from his native Hanoi,was in attendance fittingly arrayed in fine traditional male attire
Like Gullivers in Lilliput standing astride on the crests of mountains using time-honoured irrigation methods and clad in conical hats with their ropes and bamboo baskets, Vietnamese farm labourers funnel the moisture from wafting clouds down to feed the rice fields on the endless plains below. A companion frame to this one shows dawn breaking over the mountain with exquisite tinges of orange and tangaerine giving the viewer a warm feeling. This time, the farm workers have captured the sun itself and are poring down its bounty to sustain the paddies below. Twinned with this, Trong has the dawn far more advanced, lighting up the sky intensely and with the sunshine gushing down the mountain like a lava flow. This one was my favourite of all.
In contrast, a number of pictures take us into the mystical murky waters of lake and ocean. Slender jungle liana like daggers of rain drooping down to the water invoke a spooky atmosphere. In one such picture, Trong produces a spectre reminiscent of an Egyptian mummy and holding a child (a visual play on words?) wading along the shore and wistfully looking out to sea. Then there is the calm before storm-in another picture-with the same ominous weather as backdrop; beautiful pink lotus flowers float peacefully on untroubled waters unaware of the impending tempest. Some paintings in this sub-series are available in downsized versions to suit smaller wall space or pockets. Still on the watery theme, there are two frames of larger-than-life mushrooms in a green paddy field. With Trong’s paintings it pays to get up close and observe the details. The tops of the mushrooms are actuallly conical hats! Make of that what you will but there might be a clue in that the mushrooms are attired as scarecrows. Finally, there is an interesting comment in a picture that shows with the storm behind him a labourer of the fields who is steering with his bambooo poles a barge with a cargo full of metal containers.
Behind the main exhibition salon, there was a smaller room displaying pictures of more modest dimensions and also sketches offering insight into the evolution behind his principal oeuvre.
To sum up, Trong is an easy artist to access and very pleasing to his viewers. However, be sure to look at his very meticulously drawn detail to reach the different layers of meaning in his works. There is enough reality in the picture to ‘know where you are’ while the symbolism and careful hyperbole is easy enough to interpret without causing undue stress. Well, I know the critics these days will tell you should not seek explanation but only take what feeling a picture gives you. But it is a basic human reaction to try to interpret what we see. Ong Trong’s frames would hang on your wall and inspire gasps of admiration and talk from even your most unarty of visitors. There is no denying that Trong is an artist who follows his own heart who has a deep love for his country’s great outdoors seeing the countryside as the source of wealth which demands our protection. By the time this article comes to publication this show will be over, but you can still enjoy it as a video on you tube.
The Craig Thomas Gallery is 27i Tan Nhat Duat street, Tan Dinh Ward, District 1 Ho Chi Minh City
This exhibition ran from 21 to 27 November. Virtual tour of ‘Hope Full’ can be viewed on youtube-Pham Huy Thong ‘Hope Full’ Solo exhibition.