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A symphony of light and colour (September 22, 2005)

Duc Hanh steps into the world of Nguyen Van Duc, a place of timeless landscapes and locations that are simultaneously non-specific and yet inherently Vietnamese.

Nguyen Van Duc’s vivid landscapes are immediately recognisable and yet somehow unknowable and mysterious. Lit windows, moored boats and haystacks hint at the presence of human life in scenes otherwise unpopulated.

Charged with human emotion some of the landscapes are dark, brooding and alien, others exude a sense of calm and inner peace. All evoke a certain sense of nostalgia, yearning and loss.

At first glance, Duc’s use of unadulterated pure colour and child-like forms belies the works’ complexity. Areas of light and shadow interplay, creating scenes that are at once vividly alive, and yet intrinsically calm and still.

These worked surfaces have somehow assumed the human characteristics of their occupants, acting as metaphors for the life they contain within. In these works, Duc explains that he uses texture to focus the viewer’s attention.

Landscapes that appear to float in space are anchored only by the weight and depth of the brush stroke. Duc utilises technical variations to create pockets of rest, contemplation and calm that contrast with thicker, faster layers. The expressionistic treatment of the trees is essential to the works success and character. Bloated orbs of psychological colour are pulsating with life, swirling with emotion.

In these latest paintings the tree form has been simplified, almost codified. Duc has stripped it back to its most basic form, and yet it attains greater power and presence within the landscape.

Stylistically one is reminded of the work of Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch. Indeed, Duc has long been attracted to Van Gogh’s emotive use of colour and texture, and credits the Dutch master as a seminal influence on his art. The paintings explore not only the mystery and beauty of the external, tangible landscapes portrayed, but also the intangible mindscapes they allude to.

The sense of humanity contained within the work is ultimately heightened by the absence of the human form. Engulfed in darkness the insistent red glow of lamplight from windows becomes almost eerie.

One’s initial sense of stillness and serenity is ruptured by a lurking sleeplessness. Peacefulness gives way to loneliness. Duc’s vivid palette initially robust and joyous begins to feel somewhat jarring and vibrating. In Duc’s paintings, the blood red tone that saturates water and sky is both beautiful and foreboding.

The fishing village appears deserted, and yet lurking in the doorways there is a lingering sense of human presence. The intricate construction of piers provides an interesting decorative counterpoint in the works; their spindly fragility is threatened by the solid masses of houses that they support.

Duc’s most recent work offers a sense of the path the artist is now forging. Increased confidence and freedom can be felt in the brushstrokes and in the artist’s choice of colour.

Accompanying the heightened decorative nature of the work is a new maturity in the handling of the medium. Colour and texture continue to shape the works’ mood and in the artist’s most successful pieces he manages to skilfully balance chaos and calm, allowing a certain degree of stylistic and thematic tension to permeate them.

The simplicity and romance in Duc’s paintings are the factors that strike you. His paintings bring us a sense of calm and warmth. But Duc is not satisfied with his success. The artist will try to remain one step ahead by constantly altering and enlivening his style.

Nguyen Van Duc’s paintings are displayed exclusively at MAI Gallery, the first private gallery in Hanoi that promotes Vietnamese Artists with the aim of bringing them international recognition.

MAI Gallery
183 Hang Bong, Hanoi
Tel: 04 828 5854/091 351 4843
maigallery@fpt.vn, www.maigallery-vietnam.com

Reprinted from VietNamNet


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