76-year-old nude artist finds endless inspiration from muses

By Hieu Nhan   December 8, 2019 | 04:15 am PT
During 50 years, Pham Luc's inspirational goddesses are the women he loves and those walking out on him.

Luc’s room is itself a window into an artist’s life: Paintings and colors are scattered on the floor and under the bed; hanging on the walls are pictures of wars, women, flowers, mothers.

"Thieu Nu Co Don" (Lonely Woman) is next to his bed. It is a painting by him of a naked woman lying among a tiger, a fox and a weasel. The woman, whose head is in the cloud, once met the artist and agreed to model for him.

Thieu nu co don (Lonely woman). Photo by VnExpress/Hong Hieu.

"Thieu Nu Co Don" (Lonely Woman). Photo by VnExpress/Hong Hieu.

She was lovely, but as the Vietnamese say, "beauty goes with bad luck," and she was troubled wherever she went, Luc remembers.

Luc only had a few minutes with his muse and sketched her quickly before coloring and adding more details to illustrate her life, which was full of stalkers.

He sold it before his daughter bought it from someone and hung it on the wall next to his bed.

Luc does not remember how many nudes he has done since starting more than 50 years ago; only that they make up half of all his works.

He started in 1965 while he was a teacher in an art unit of the army, and required to show his students how to draw nude sketches to have a better understanding of the human body.

Without models, the young painter had to imagine and use what he had learned at the Hanoi College of Fine Arts. Since then, hoping to reflect Vietnamese women’s desires and dreams, he has used nude paintings to show their beauty.

But when nude artworks were banned during the war, he had to paint in secret. Having no fabric to draw on, he used sackcloth, calendars, documents, and other materials to paint on. 

In 1978 some of his artworks were sold publicly for the first time. While nude art is still a controversal topic in Vietnam due to the thin line between sensuality and vulgarity, Luc claims his works are sexy but not erotic.

"Some people think creating nude paintings is easy; but it is not. The artworks have to attract art lovers with a clear message but can’t be vulgar."

Pham Luc draws at his house. Photo by VnExpress/Hong Hieu.

Pham Luc draws at his house. Photo by VnExpress/Hong Hieu.

"Sometimes in nude art a beautiful mind is more charming than a beautiful body," Luc says. His three wives are a great source of artistic inspiration.

Though he has never actually painted his first wife, her beauty is in some of his artworks such as "Thu Chien Truong" (Letter from Battleground) and "Me Cho Con Bu" (Mother Feeding Her Child) because her life inspired him.

His two later wives appear more frequently. Their daily activities such as showering, working, talking are clearly represented in his works.

His talent means his paintings have been to innumerable exhibitions. There is a club with more than 100 members collecting the 76-year-old’s 6,000 works. While a single painting of his could fetch $400,000, he does not remember how much he has earned. He spends most of his income on charity.

"I do not know how to enjoy tasty food, hang out or drive a car. My children and relatives have enough. I do not know what to do with large amounts of money, so I am willing to help people."

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