Vietnam Art Books -- Artist carves out niche where modern, traditional wood-block paintings merge
By Thanh Huyen

Artist carves out niche where modern, traditional wood-block paintings merge
By Thanh Huyen

The wood-block artist Dinh Luc.
Dinh Luc sits hunched over a wooden board. A scene from Ha Noi’s old quarter quickly takes shape under the swift, controlled movements of his short-handled carving knife.

At 57, the artist still finds his passion for wood-block printing as fresh as the day he began over 20 years ago.

"It is always a wonderful feeling when you turn a piece of wood into a piece of art," says Luc.

Born in 1945 in Ha Noi, Dinh Luc describes painting as his "destiny".

Village Landscape in Ha Bac Province, wood-block
"I never thought that one day I would become a painter. But my love for painting began when I was still a little boy. I kept painting everywhere in my house – on the floor, on the walls and on paper," recalls Luc.

His passion led the young Hanoian to study at the graphic department of Viet Nam Industrial Fine Arts College, and then the art history faculty of Ha Noi Fine Art College.

Now an artist at the Ha Noi Children’s Palace, Luc has accumulated a variety of both national and international accolades. He has won international illustration contests in Poland, the Czech Republic and Japan, and was awarded the Medal for Viet Nam’s Fine Arts in 1997. Most recently, he claimed the prestigious top honours at the 2002 Biennale of Asian Illustrations in Hokkaido, Japan for three of his wood-block prints.

"Like the work of stone stelae engravers at Van Mieu (The Temple of Literature) hundreds years ago, wood-block carving gives a piece of wood an artistic life of its own," Luc says.

But unlike a stelae engraver, a wood-block artist has to fulfil three jobs – that of a writer, a calligrapher, and a carver.

"The artist also has to be both creative, and technically skilled," he adds.

The artist’s large body of work is largely inspired by a deep nostalgia for his childhood; it is executed using a purely Vietnamese technique.

"The architecture of Viet Nam’s temples and villages gave me a simple but deep sense of form, while the traditional wood-block art of Dong Ho and Hang Trong brought me a joyful and luminous palette, full of popular emotions," explains the artist.

Countryside’s Rhythm, wood-block
"Dinh Luc has skilfully combined the traditional with the contemporary to capture his conceptions of virtue, customs and the national character," says Professor Nguyen Do Bao.

Luc uses do (poonah) paper to apply a positive print that produces luxurious black and white colours. He also does negative prints on black paper of folk worship, building on the principles of yin and yang, and the ‘five elements’ of Oriental thought.

Experts note that he has combined the colour print techniques of both Dong Ho and Hang Trong’s wood-block art.

His most popular wood-block prints seem simple, even primitive at first glance. But with just a few bold black lines, Luc is somehow able to instil complex meaning. It is for this reason that his work is often chosen to illustrate children’s fairy tales.

"I always think that there are a lot of rules in painting but the highest form of expression has no rules. But an artist must understand all the rules before they can break them," Luc declares.

At the age of 57, Dinh Luc is as immersed in his art as ever.

"I always think that creation is practice. And it has never occurred to me that one day I will stop making wood-block prints," he says.

"But it does not mean that I forget painting in other materials too. I plan to try my hand at oil on canvas and lacquer."

Reprinted with permission from VietNam News Agency.


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