A little Vietnamese girl blushes on a California street

By Sen   September 17, 2018 | 03:22 pm GMT+7
A Vietnamese oil painting, Pink Lips, is brilliantly re-rendered by a street artist in California, redoubling its charm.
Hồng Môi by artist Le The Anh.

“Hồng Môi” by artist Le The Anh

Le The Anh is a highly acclaimed and awarded artist in Vietnam. His works can be seen at the Vietnam Art Museum and Vietnam Fine Arts Association.

One of his famous works is “Hồng Môi” or Pink Lips. It has been widely replicated and shown in many galleries in Hanoi. The captivating authenticity of the ethnic minority girl has earned the painting an honored spot in painter Cuong Nguyen’s art collection.

From there, it made its way to the Palo Alto Festival of the Arts, California, thanks to another artist who was a former student of Cuong Nguyen.

Cuong Nguyen, a Vietnamese American artist, is a graduate of graphic design at San Jose State University. He is known for his realistic paintings and has participated in street art events, specializing in pastels.

Marlon Yanes, Nguyen’s student, chose to recreate “Pink Lips” with chalk on the street.

Chalk and cheese

Now, this is easier said than done, given the considerable difference in material between drying oil and chalk.

Thus, the artist must have a thorough understanding of oil painting so that he can generate an identical representation of color and sensitivity.

“Throughout the years I learned tips and tricks from other chalk artists. My technique comes from trial and error over the years. I use mostly Koss brand Soft pastels. I use unusual colors like green, light blue and purple for skin tones, doing crosshatch first and then I build up the values with output smudging,” says Yanes.

Eye level vs foot level

Then there is a difference in the field of view: a crucial element for both the painter and viewers. On one hand, oil paintings are hung on the wall at the height of human eyes (typically 58 inches), plus the distance between them and the viewer is usually about 1-3 meters. The exhibition room where they are stored is often equipped with designed lighting. Oil paintings also have frames.

On the other hand, street painting is of course seen at the foot of the viewer. In the area where the work is exhibited, the Organizing Committee set up a fence system to keep an appropriate distance between viewers and the work. People can observe the painting from all angles, but in general, a direct, face-to-face position of standing allows spectators to grasp the painting’s every detail accurately. Otherwise, their vision might be distorted by law of perspective.

Size matters

A street replica is often considerably larger than the original, so artists must use the rule of projection to come up with an accurate modification of the size.

The different field of view requires the artist to do some editing so that the viewer sees a proportional work, especially one that retains the original spirit of the painting. Depending on how intricate and big the work is, it can take from several hours to several days to finish it. That means the artist would have to endure inclement weather, maintain their energy flow, as well as keep the inspiration derived from the painting intact.

Yanes completed the replica after a total of 20.5 hours of work.

Replica of Hồng Môi by Marlon Yanes.

Replica of “Hồng Môi” by Marlon Yanes

Yanes is a Guatemalan-born American artist living in Redwood City, California. He regularly competes in street painting festivals throughout the U.S. and has been quite successful.

He has immersed himself in chalk pastels over the past five years.

“I started painting with chalk pastels back in 2008. I came across this medium by accident and fell in love right away. Since then I have been working on practicing and trying to improve every day,” Yanes told VnExpress in an email.

His larger-than-life wall murals cover buildings – inside and out - throughout many Bay Area communities. His delivery of the original sensation of “Hồng Môi” on a Palo Alto street was rooted in a desire to master the art like his teacher, Cuong Nguyen.

“He has been my inspiration and my goal to one day be at least a little bit as good as he is; now I know I am nowhere near his skill level, but hope to one day get there,” Yanes said.

A variety of chalk pastels in progress. Photo by Marlon Yanes

A variety of chalk pastels in progress. Photo by Marlon Yanes

Talking about his feelings recreating the “Pink Lips,” Yanes said he was anxious throughout.

“I was so nervous because Nguyen, who I look up to, sees this painting every day in his studio. And he was going to be at the festival to check it out, and it was a great image to reproduce and I didn’t want to not be able to show the story that the image tells on its own.”

An overhead shot of Yanes progress. Photo by Wayne Renshaw

An overhead shot of Yanes’ progress. Photo by Wayne Renshaw

Marlon Yanes and his completed replica of Hồng Môi. Photo by Cuong Nguyen

Marlon Yanes and his completed replica of “Hồng Môi”. Photo by Cuong Nguyen

He seems to have succeeded, given the commendations received from festival goers, who expressed awe at the revelation of Vietnamese ethnic minority identity in the painting.

Yanes told VnExpress that he did not give the street painting an English name but simply gave credit to its original creator.

Le The Anh, the original artist, said the experience fills him with joy on cinet.vn. He said he was happy that his painting could inspire fellow artists and allowed him to make new friends.

Most importantly, he said, the replica has introduced foreign friends and locals in Palo Alto, California to the charm of Vietnamese people.

If the girl in the picture is blushing, she has every right to.

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