Ilza Burchett – About The Art of Painter Pham Luc


Currently on show at Vietnam Fine Arts Museum is an exhibition of seventy oil and lacquer paintings from the private collection of Dr. Nguyen Si Dung.

Titled “Bridging Two Centuries”, this exhibition is a tribute and a celebration of the life and art of painter Pham Luc (b.1943), an “artist-fighter… whose soldier baggage consisted of the field sack and an easel permanently along his side.” [1] on the occasion of his 70th Birthday Anniversary.

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The works on show span a period from 1963 til now — suggesting a retrospective view of the Artist’s life-time achievements.

This exhibition is covering most genres of painting in the classical European painting tradition: town-scape, landscape, sea-scape, still life, figurative composition, intimate nudes and self portraits. The works are done in a variety of classical painting media: oil on canvas, oil on paper, and the artist’s trade mark — oil on rice sacks; gouache and watercolour, as well as in the traditional Vietnamese lacquer technique.
These paintings are marked by artistic virtuoso mastery — one can easily follow the flow of the drawing, as well as the flow of a great talent’s brush stroke or application by a pallet knife, the well-practiced assuredness of the line, the assertive sense of composition; the nuanced but categorical color, the sophisticated and intelligent use of materials the Artist chooses to work with … in other words, one can easily ‘read’ the clear, classically-straightforwardvisual language of Pham Luc’s artistic expression, and so, truly appreciate the aesthetic value of his work.

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But, as most artists would accept, these are only tools used in their seeking out something beyond the descriptive, beyond the ‘easily readable’ narrative of their pictures, and beyond their readily gained satisfaction in producing yet another painting / work of art, or otherwise — how to convey the feeling and be able to impart the intended meaning that could be shared with, grasped and understood by others.

Looking at the works in this exhibition, one has the strong impression that the descriptive features in Pham Luc’s artistic expression suddenly and all at once collide with artist’s feelings — exploding into abstractedness and a faithful resolution of the paradox into an altogether new image, which in spite of this transformation still retains the true features of its character. That is how actually one becomes aware of a nuanced and subtle transition taking place trough the years in Pham Luc’s artistic expression and then, of a clearly discernible momentary shift in his art from classical expressionism to modernity.

Most surprisingly, this is also the strongest feature of his large traditional Vietnamese lacquer paintings, where his sure hand and his exceptional sensitivity and mastery of the medium draw bold, freely applied strokes of gold on a black background; making it all look like done in one fell swoop, yet the expressive gesture and form are there only to serve and accentuate the depth of his intimate feelings. It is this depth of feeling that can convey, without any intended metaphor, the horror of the actual reality of war in the form of the trunks of trees in his town-scapes, assuming strong resemblance to planted upright and pointing at the sky rifles — an amazing, subconscious pop-up of an allusion of a repressed memory and emotion.

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In the same way these disturbances surface unexpectedly above his seemingly peaceful compositions — there is a pregnant tension lurking under the surface of the paintings’ visual pleasantness, and the very palpable drama of turmoil caching the eye of the viewer only after one’s gaze is averted …

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Perhaps the most powerfully expressive of this feeling — one that embraces you slowly and unnoticeably, and yet lets you feel its stealthy turbulence only when you turn your back to it, is a painting called: “A paramilitary woman carrying her child on bicycle” (1966), in which the scribbled-graffiti-like in black paint figure — pushed, as it were, by the force of the death itself or carried forward by the very perseverance of the force of life — is disappearing into the perspective’s zero point of the picture.

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As delicate and elusive as the morning breeze that has secrets to tell, Pham Luc’s art is powerfully expressive of the character of Vietnamese artistic sensibility and its aesthetics and, because of that, it is tracing a deep groove in the fertile soil of  the Vietnamese contemporary visual art.

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In the light of the substantive contribution of Pham Luc’s art to the modern history and the development of Vietnam’s contemporary visual art, it is immediately regretful that besides a flyer, there is no catalog to accompany this exhibition, thus denying the public the opportunity to share in print-reproduction the wealth of this artist’s output til now.

Notes: [1] quoting from the flyer for the exhibition: Painter Pham Luc; Nguyen Do Bao, Prof. Dr in Art Study

Ilza holds the deep conviction that there is nothing more damaging than indifference and that only a critique, based on peer to peer assessment of contemporary art practices, is the way to broaden and encourage the creative thought and new original artistic ideas — fostering a better understanding of contemporary visual art and the role of the artist as a creator of cultural values.
Ilza Burchett is an internationally exhibiting artist, now based in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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