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ART SCENES | EXHIBITIONS | VN CULTURE | ART ASSOCIATIONS | ETHNIC MINORITIES

American painter sees red in temple
by Phuong Anh


American painter Fred Harris.
HA NOI — Once he entered the red door at the Temple of Literature, American painter Fred Harris encountered a cultural world of Viet Nam that has never ceased providing him with creative inspiration.

His works, which combine his American art training, his long experience in his adopted home of Japan and his recent experiences in a Viet Nam he has "grown to love with a passion", are currently on display in the capital city.

"Living in Japan for over 40 years, I have become a completely bicultural person," Harris says. "Alongside this adopted home, Viet Nam has also become an inspiring land to me."

The red door of Van Mieu in Harris’ brush strokes.
Harris first walked through the cultural gates of Viet Nam in Ha Noi two years ago. Since then, he has come back for more every few months.

"My first visual experience was through the magnificent red door of Van Mieu, or the Temple of Literature, which has become a symbol of my feelings for Viet Nam," says Harris.

Harris first fell in love with Viet Nam through its art. He says Vietnamese art has an originality that has not been seized by the influence of Western artistic trends.

The artists here have a sincerity he says he can find nowhere else. "When you love the art, you will love the people who make the art," he says.

With guidance from his Vietnamese friends, Harris has visited places such as Hue, Hoi An, Ha Long Bay, My Son, Da Nang and numerous villages and pagodas in Ha Noi and its surrounding area.

Wherever he’s gone, he’s found places and people who within minutes have inspired him to sketch them in black sumi-e ink. The works are either left in this original colour or retouched with other hues.

Divided into two sections, Harris’ exhibition introduces the paintings he has created in Japan and Viet Nam. The medium of sumi-e creates a simple purity of dancing strokes and offers a big visual treat for the eyes.

The Japanese section provides a glimpse of the magnificent Buddhist temples and shrines in Tokyo and other places. The spirit of the East Asian country’s people is also captured in a series of paintings by an American artist who has grown an Oriental soul.

The more recent paintings originating from the sketches Harris made during his travels through Viet Nam reflect his unique and impish vision of the country.

Sumi-e ink drawings are more than just a technique of applying ink to rice paper. The artist must strive to capture the essence of his subject, and translate it onto the paper or silk with deep feeling.

Calligraphy is the basis for the brush strokes of sumi-e, while simplicity is its most outstanding characteristic.

Born in New York in 1932, Harris studied art at several schools including the High School of Music and Art, the National Academy of Design in New York, and taught at the Art Centre School in Los Angeles before he joined the Japan Artists Association in 1964.

With his Japanese wife, Harris has lived in Japan for the past 45 years. Forever inspired by sumi-e paintings, he has written books on the art and judged exhibitions by modern sumi-e painters.

Since 2001, Harris has been a visiting professor at the Ha Noi Fine Art College.

Harris says that now he is 70, he wants to spend more time studying the art and literature of Viet Nam. He listens to Vietnamese folk music at his home in Japan to inspire him as he works on his paintings of Viet Nam, and he is a fan of contemporary Vietnamese literature and poetry.

Harris’ world of Viet Nam as seen through the red door can be viewed at the Ha Noi Fine Art College, 42 Yet Kieu Street, until October 31.

Reprinted with permission from VietNam News Agency.

     

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