Gripping the brush with his left hand, eyes peeled to waving leaves whose dewy drops of fog twinkle in the fresh light of the early morning, Lubos Novy, the Czech Ambassador to Viet Nam, is taking advantage of a rare quiet moment to indulge in his passion.
The fragile beams of light running through the wide-open window seem to warm him up, energising his hand to sketch the first strokes.
And there, from the rough surface of a small piece of wood, appear simple lines inspired by Vietnamese countryside.
"I have been much impressed by the Vietnamese landscape, people and pagodas," said Novy. "So I would like to create such a mixture to express my impression of the amazing realistic feelings that the country has brought to me since I came here in October 2000."
This expression has found form in a collection of oil paintings on wood that the ambassador will exhibit in coming weeks in Ha Noi.
But in today’s early morning session, two figures of Vietnamese traditional puppets, or Teu, with trademark broad smiles materialise from his brushstrokes, standing in water like in a theatre performance. Here, though, the images are positioned like two farmers working hard in the field with simple tools.
Above them, on a stone bridge, emerges a stream of passing Vietnamese farmers carrying heavy loads on their shoulders. The labourers walk in a long procession one after another on the bridge, symbolising a continuous flux of labour.
A little further, appears a modified image of a local pagoda, its reflection on the river water and its ringing bell seemingly overwhelming the whole atmosphere of the placid scenery.
The painting is named Good Afternoon Mr Nguyen – Good Afternoon Mr Nguyen, the familiar greeting that Vietnamese people often say to one another.
Nguyen, also a common name among local people, in Novy’s painting appears in the form of the puppet, which to the artist embodies the Vietnamese people’s culture, habits and character.
And more than once, in his succeeding works of art, Novy portrays the images of puppets, pagodas and working people, either in their everyday lives or modified in a western Romanticist style.
Most of his paintings stick to traditional themes dating back to 18th century wood-carving illustrations that he has found in works of literature by authors such as Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe.
Through the old landscapes, buildings in ruin, cathedrals and people in the epoch’s costume, he wants to express a philosophy of today’s life.
"His Renaissance-inspired iconic symbols have a biblical undertone that introduce us to a world which is neither unreal nor outlandish, but anguishingly both nostalgic and magical," commented Vietnamese art critic Duong Tuong.
"I always pay much attention to details," ambassador Novy said, "I put the pieces of nature – like clouds, plants, water and light – here and there in the pictures so that it create a total landscape."
Novy has also developed a passion for miniatures, the smallest of which measures 10.5 by 6.5cm.
"Working with such a small space is not easy. I have to use a magnifying glass to draw the small details," he said, "but it’s quite interesting. I can express my ideas within small delicate pieces of work instead of the very large size other present artists prefer."
So far, Novy’s collection of paintings and miniatures has mounted up to 28 many of which he has exhibited lots of times since the late 1990s in the Czech Republic and Ireland, where he worked as the ambassador of Czech Republic from 1995 to 1999.
This time in Viet Nam he will display paintings together with his friend Nguyen Quoc Hoi, a Vietnamese artist.
"Hoi’s style is quite different from mine," the ambassador said, "He usually draws single figures in big format, while I draw many figures even in miniatures."
The contrasting features will evoke quite contrary feelings to the audience.
The joint exhibition will also be a kind of co-ordination between art from two countries, he said.
The exhibition was scheduled to open on Monday through November 11 at the Daeha Business Centre, 360 Kim Ma Street, Ha Noi. — VNS
Reprinted with permission from VietNam News Agency