(No.2, Vol.8,Apr-May Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

A portrait of Mr Pham Van Hang. Photo: MPK

A brass poetry book of Mr Pham Van Hang. Photo: MPK

In the cold of pre-New Year Da Lat, when things seem to move faster to complete the yearly cycle and enter the joyous period of New Year celebrations, I receive a call from sculptor Pham Van Hang.
Having missed the previous appointment to interview him as he rushed to the airport, I feel so thrilled to be given another chance to meet him, a monumental figure in contemporary Vietnamese art, creator of the best-known works of plastic art.
‘You want to have a real piece of writing?’ he asked on the phone.
‘Yes sir.’
‘Well, come to my place then!’
The silver haired man (he was born in 1942 in Nam O Village, Hoa Vang District of Danang) greeted me with a wide warm smile and a delicious steamy hot cup of coffee. It’s very encouraging to see a man of his age still brimming with energy for his journeys and plans for the future. Does he have a supernatural health or an outside source of energy that never gets exhausted after half a century of being spent so generously?
Moreover, I felt quite lucky, because he kindly thought of me just as he has a few rare and precious moments free from his energy-absorbent works and projects, to meet and share with me his thoughts and let me contemplate the very works that made up the solid name of Pham Van Hang, one well-known beyond geographical boundaries, the works that make up a shining career respected and admired by colleagues and the public.
He smiled as I mumbled my question and said half jokingly, with a serious look in his eyes, ‘There are so many competitions nowadays. Pham Van Hang won’t perhaps win the talent contests but will dare to take part in that of diligence.’
So true! ‘Diligence’ was his formidable secret weapon, that’s the summary of decades of ceaseless searching and ground breaking in aspects of art. And that diligence, accompanied by his golden hands, creative mind and passionate heart, has resulted in hundreds of famous sculptures, statues, icons and monuments.
I am not an art critic or an art theorist or an expert of anything. I am just someone blessed with certain literary capability. And it would not be necessary to analyze again Pham Van Hang’s works of art and discuss about their outstanding or unique features, because scholars and colleagues have already written volumes about him and his achievements in domestic and international publications.
He wraps up the intrinsic value asserted by each and every piece of his works in muscular words, ‘Artist is a beautiful word people use to call creative souls. I am just a worker performing a physical work. I have no talent, but I am determined. I am a good, skillful worker, and I earn my living.’
And today that diligent worker opened the gates of his Eden, letting me make timid steps inside to contemplate everything with a child’s awe and admiration.
Amongst dazzling colors of flowers, above a verdant floor, the seemingly random arrangement of the very much alive sculptures makes it so rewarding to discover the hidden intended order. Besides me, the artist talks passionately about the moments of awakening, and the mystical moments of connection with the subjects of his creation. And the hidden features in the style and character of the artist I am meeting with brought me a successive sequence of surprises.
In his artistic endeavors, Pham Van Hang was not limited to the majestic though strenuous form of sculpting. Rather, he absorbed everything from all the art forms he came into contact with, mixed and blended everything to find his own formula. He is an adventurer who had been through several voyages. In extreme realism, he had the ‘Evidence’ about the raging war in 1970 that made everyone shudder. Then he embarked in surrealism with oil on canvas, and then came the period of stylization using blocks and masses with countless numbers of huge statues and monuments.
There is a hut inside the Eden of sculptures, whose sole purpose was to house a 220kg brass book of poems titled ‘30 years in lame verses’ that took my breath away. The book contains 29 short poems, each one engraved in relief in four languages: Vietnamese, English, French and Chinese. The Vietnamese originals were authored by the artist himself. This brass poetry book won several Vietnamese Guinness records: the heaviest, the fewest in published quantity, and the only one made on brass.
On the opened page I read:
‘Law of the jungle needs no gentlemen
Dogmas imprison knowledge
Power fears reason’

In his mid-70s, to Pham Van Hang poetry is nothing but the crystallization of wisdom about people and life. His inexhaustible intuition and energy helped open up new dimensions in his thoughts and new aspects in his artistic creation. But does this silver haired, skinny old artist have anything to regret beneath so thick a layer of fame and praises and applause from the public?
He told me what he regrets the most is the loss of freedom. Yes, for an artist, the freedom to blast off to break out beyond the boundaries of morality is a legitimate desire. I feel and share his pain.
It’s past mid-noon, and the sculptor has stopped modeling a new sculpture. It’s the newest work of art he is conceiving, a monument for King Quang Trung. I asked him if this is his last? He laughed softly. No, no sight of the last one yet. Then he treated me an outstanding lunch of chicken vermicelli with eggs that he prepared all by himself.
This meeting with him in his Eden of dreams was one of the best, most blissful experiences of my life. Pham Van Hang, the sculptor and a sculpture himself, goes on burning his passion to light and shape his artistic dreams. And in his Eden of dreams, the sculptures and visitors keep on forming a world that has no limits in time and space.

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