(No.1, Vol.8,Feb -March Vietnam Heritage Magazine)
After an absence of half a year, Galerie Quynh is back in business with bright and airy new premises in that relatively quiet and secluded quarter of District One that is Da Kao. There are four spacious display floors, three of which were occupied by an exhibition called ‘The Line’ by the artist Tran Van Thao. Thao needs no introduction to me as I have reviewed two of his shows already for this magazine. I am familiar with his brand of largely abstract work that can have you at times working out themes and what may appear reconstructions of real objects. Thao has the honour of being the first to exhibit at this new venue.
Upon arrival, I was met by the artist himself who walked me round his exhibition. The individual frames do not have names but numbers – The Line#1, 2, 3-up to 16. The lines themselves feature triangles intersected by other lines and also emanating from the apexes. In previous exhibitions, Thao was more concerned with circles but now he seems to have gone ‘straight’. I wondered how good he was at geometry at school. We started on the ground floor where many of the pictures were mainly in a beautiful dark sea blue with blobs of oil looking like pebbles. On the other floors, there was a lack of colour; just grey, black and white. For materials and technique Thao uses acrylic oil, stick and pencil and attaching cotton fabric and papier mache onto the canvass.
We reached the upper level gallery. Here was the most striking example of the cotton cloth attachments in the form of a large bow. I am not sure how it added to the lines and triangles, but it was certainly an attraction. Working this out and with the eye constantly moving to follow the lines Thao certainly makes the viewer active. I noticed too that in two of the paintings it appeared to be raining. ‘Living in Saigon, I love the rain’, said the artist; a feeling which I entirely share.
I asked Thao which Western artists he might like and/or by whom he was influenced. Antoni Tapies came the reply. I looked him up and sure enough the influences are clear to see. Tapies for most of his career was described as expressionist abstract and like Thao liked to attach string and cloth and everyday objects to his canvasses. When you are talking about an artist of Barcelona by this first name of Antoni it can only lead the conversation to the very original and renowned architect, Antoni Gaudi. As an architect, Gaudi, I remarked, was very artistic. ‘Yes,his work was sculpture’, replied Thao. ‘There is a quote by Gaudi’, I went on, ‘that might apply given its title to your exhibition. ‘The straight line belongs to man; the curved line to God.’ Gaudi believed as there were no straight lines in nature. They should not be in buildings. We may agree or not but it is still refreshing to be in the company of one who celebrates the straight line.
I hope I have given you a good overview of what to expect from this foremost contemporary abstract Vietnamese artist. Of course, with this kind of art personal reactions depend on the eye and the heart of the beholder. At all events I think you will find the works interesting and worthy of your time.