Their shared interest in Vietnamese lacquer painting has given birth to a multi-national classroom. One is a lecturer with a Master's degree in lacquer painting at Hanoi University of Industrial Fine Arts, the other organizer a lawyer from Germany. Both are captivated by Vietnam's spectacular lacquer art.
Artist Tran Anh Tuan is guiding learners techniques of lacquer art, Photo: SGTT
It was one April morning in Hanoi and the weather was baking hot. Yet, in a room that was packed with lacquer paintings and students of all skin colors and nationalities, all the electric fans were turned off. Deeply absorbed in their work, none of them seemed to be bothered by the heat.
Those who have grasped the basic techniques were either sketching or meticulously applying colors to their work layer by layer, while the beginners were learning their first lessons from scratch. Patiently yet briskly, the Vietnamese teacher was weaving his way among the different groups, juggling many languages at the same time, Vietnamese, English, and French, to be able to attend to all of their queries.
When the short break came, I took Tran Anh Tuan, the Vietnamese teacher, aside for a chat. The artist said that he had conceived the idea of a lacquer painting class long ago, but it was only when he met one special student, Elke Riter, a German lawyer with a peculiar passion in Vietnamese lacquer art, that he was given the needed push to turn his idea into reality.
At first, both teacher and student had to labor hard, days and nights, to launch an exhibition of lacquer paintings, which not only serve as exhibition items but also as reference materials for their future students. “Squatting” in a close friend’s house, whose yard was under shady trees and large enough for hanging their works, they started their lacquer painting class.
Both Anh Tuan and Elke Riter were taken aback by number of foreign expats interested in attending their class. Coming from countries all over the world, each of them has a special reason for wanting to learn about the Vietnamese lacquer art. Sohah, following her husband to Vietnam because of his work, wanted to perfect her lacquer-making techniques. Khang, a young tour guide, was held spellbound by the “distinctiveness and beauty” of lacquer.
Classes meet on weekdays, but every Wednesday, the adults stay home to make way for the kids. Also of all skin colors and nationalities and speaking different languages, the children would crawl on the floor, applying themselves to their own paintings. They could toy with any materials that pleased them, from lacquer, oil paint, water color to synthetic color. The teacher wanted to offer a fun and relaxing space for his little students to exercise their artistic bent, without any restraint on the young minds.
Each time he gives a lesson in his class, he becomes more assured about the future of Vietnam’s lacquer art, and less disturbed by the small number of three or four students taking his lacquer courses in some universities of fine arts.
Departing from his family’s pedagogical tradition to venture into the world of lacquer art at a time when this original Vietnamese art was overshadowed by many new trends and the market forces, Anh Tuan is never swayed from his career path.
Passionately and creatively, he would apply new engraving and embossing techniques to his works, grabbing the viewers’ attention with their singular colors, lining, shaping and ideas.
His passion will not be satisfied by holding a classroom in lacquer painting only. His next step is to open more in-depth courses in the art of lacquer. For example, he plans to organize "field-trips" to craft villages in the North, which for hundreds of years have supplied the essential materials for Vietnamese lacquer art such as arca shells, clam shells, and gold and silver sheets.
It seems the journey of the 39-year-old artist will take him to many more interesting destinations ahead.
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