Hanoi painter preserves rural spirit

By Ha Thu   October 4, 2021 | 08:33 pm PT
Tran Nguyen has a knack for depicting village life - from a grandfather on a bamboo mat entertaining his grandchild, to a grandmother knitting brooms in a yard.

In late September, painter Tran Nguyen posted a series of paintings showing rural life on an online forum, receiving 2,000 likes and 400 shares.

"The paintings are so beautiful, each picture is full of the rural spirit," Oanh Nguyen, a Facebooker, commented.

Many people agreed, saying the artworks take them to their childhood, amid rapid urbanization changing the face of many villages across the country.

"I think when we grow up, we struggle to make a living in the middle of cities of concrete, we feel relieved when looking at paintings that remind us of our childhood," the painter commented

He added his purpose was to preserve the memories of Vietnamese villages, hoping younger generations would understand the lives of their grandparents and parents better.

Nguyen started making paintings with rural themes two years ago. Before the pandemic, he spent a lot of time traveling to ancient villages like Duong Lam and Cu Da in Hanoi seeking inspiration.

It usually takes him about two weeks to come up with an idea before starting on the final painting.

The biggest challenge entails the rapid disappearance of Vietnamese village landscapes. When going on a field trip, he would often interview local residents to gain a contextual understanding of his surroundings.

Many of his works are inspired by the house where his family used to live in Xuan Hong Commune, Xuan Truong District, Nam Dinh Province.

Khoang San Truoc Nha (The Yard) by Tran Nguyen.

"Khoang San Truoc Nha" (The Yard) by Tran Nguyen.

When he was young, his parents worked far from home, so Nguyen lived with his grandparents. His favorite painting is "Khoang San Truoc Nha" (The Yard), depicting a grandfather sitting on a bamboo cot with his grandson. The yard is filled with jars, dry vegetables, and tubers.

In "Ky Uc Ve Ba" (Memory of Grandma), he painted his grandmother wearing traditional clothes, sitting and drying cassava in a sunny courtyard.

Nguyen spent a lot of time taking care of details like the water tank, the bricks, pile of straw, and shading.

"Som Mai Cua Me" (Mother’s Morning) depicts a mother washing clothes by a mossy well, while the father prepares to take their children to school.

Som Mai Cua Me (Mother’s Morning) by Tran Nguyen.

"Som Mai Cua Me" (Mother’s Morning) by Tran Nguyen.

In order to set himself apart from other painters of rural lives, Nguyen includes the childhood memories of many generations in his works. Street vendors to tea stalls, wells, paved village roads, flower trellises, all appear in Nguyen’s paintings. He said he always chooses new perspectives so he could avoid repetition.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, Nguyen stayed in his house in Hanoi, focusing on composing new artwork.

Through online forums, Nguyen has connected with many collectors and art lovers, selling more than 40 paintings, each going for around VND20 million ($880).

Nguyen was born in 1990 into an agricultural family. He has been interested in drawing since childhood, studying fine art design at the University of Theater and Performing Arts in Hanoi.

After graduation, he worked as a graphic designer at a Japanese game company before becoming a freelance artist. He plans to host his own exhibition in the near future.

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