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Famous painter’s oeuvre celebrated afresh

Old Street, oil, by Bui Xuan Phai

Painting exhibition of late famous artist Bui Xuan Phai. (in .ram format)

HA NOI — Bui Xuan Phai has been dead for more than a decade, but the legacy of his art lives on.

And now art lovers can pay homage to Phai, regarded as the pioneer of contemporary Vietnamese painting, with an exhibition and a new book to commemorate the 14th anniversary of his death.

The exhibition, at Ha Noi’s Hotel Nikko from June 24 to 27, will feature 32 of the great master’s art works.

Twelve are oils on canvas and 20 are sketches, created between the 1960s and 1980s.

"The oils, contributed by art collectors across the nation, show Phai’s typical style: a style which brought him fame as one of the best painters in Viet Nam in the 20th century," said co-organiser and collector Tran Hau Tuan.

The sketches, which will be seen in public for the first time, capture Phai’s inspiration and emotion during his many field trips and were the foundation for many of his paintings.

The book, entitled Bui Xuan Phai – The Field Trips, compiles more than 60 of his best-loved works.

Tran Hau Tuan and his family are also responsible for the book, the sixth they have published on Phai’s work, which features articles written by art critics Thai Ba Van, Duong Tuong, Nguyen Quan and Phan Cam Thuong.

Bui Xuan Phai (1920-1988) was born in Ha Noi and spent a happy childhood at 87 Thuoc Bac Street in the city’s Old Quarter, which was to be of great significance in his later paintings. He based an entire body of work, Ha Noi’s Ancient Streets, on his childhood home.

In 1941, Phai passed the examinations for the Indochina Fine Arts College and he and his friends, Nguyen Tu Nghiem and Huynh Van Gam, were soon renowned as excellent students.

They led the movement to renovate art under the leadership of painter To Ngoc Van, who was then the school’s official lecturer, and Professor J. Inguimberty.

Both men took charge of students in their third, fourth and fifth years at college.

These artists, trained in French realism and impressionism at the Indochina Fine Arts College, used their classical European training to create distinctly Vietnamese and modern art.

The new, bold and attractive features of Phai’s paintings stem from the fact that he extracted the quintessential elements of Western art and then took his painting beyond these rigours.

He searched for dilapidated images and used rough colours: a very different style to the traditional, staid art.

Ha Noi’s Old Quarter in Phai’s paintings is tenderly rendered in brilliant colours with uneven houses and mossy old walls. His depiction of Ha Noi’s nostalgic streets, which made him the creator of the 37th street in the Old Quarter, have won acclaim from art lovers at home and abroad.

Phai also painted many portraits, landscapes and characters from tuong (classical opera) and cheo (popular opera) performances.

These paintings display a special style – liberal and simultaneously real and unreal.

Phai was considered one of the four greatest Vietnamese painters of his time along with Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Nguyen Sang and Duong Bich Lien. Many of his successors admit to being influenced by his style.

Phai paved the way for younger generations of painters, who dream of creating new artistic trends.

He was posthumously awarded the Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Award, First Class, by the State. — VNS

Reprinted with permission from VietNam News Agency


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