Artist Vu Duc Trung: Lacquer – more than just a companion

(This interview, on Trung’s artistic experiences in lacquer painting and his thoughts on his artistic journey, was commissioned for the book and the exhibition “Imaginary Land”)

Lacquer painting – Why?

Q: Why did you decide to study fine art at an university?

VDT: I could not remember why I decided to study fine art. I just remember that I look several entrance examinations but I only passed the one of the University of Applied Art in Hanoi. Then, I studied there.

Q: So I understand you were not much interested in or fond of painting as a child. Were you influenced by anyone in your family?

VDT: No, not at all. In my family, there has never been any connection to art. Since childhood, I have loved reading, especially literary books. Sometimes, I wrote poems, dreaming to become a writer. I remember that I started to think of taking an entrance examination to an art college when I was going to finish the high school. Then I took a training course for the examination at the University of Applied Arts. I began the first drawing lessons with a lot of embarrassment.

Q: But do you still remember why you chose lacquer painting?

VDT: During the fast training course, I did a bit investigation in all faculties at the university and found that, the faculty of lacquer was the one most connected with painting.

Q: After completing five years of study, you decided to continue a Master course (M.A) at the Vietnam University of Fine Arts. I guess that with the decision, you were committed to become an artist?

VDT: I studied for the M.A course for a number of reasons. First, I did not know what to do after the graduation. I could not follow my classmates working as graphic or interior designers, In fact, students at the University of Applied Arts have been very active in seeking jobs during and especially after their studies. Others launched their design companies as soon as they passed the final examinations. I could not either stay at home and painted what I did like because I felt in that case, I was much like a person going to the market without any coin. Second, I intended with my M.A to work as an art teacher because I would have more time free for painting. My parents always wanted me to have a stable job, like teaching. On the other hand, I wanted to become a professional painter. Therefore, by taking the graduate course at that time, I could satisfy myself as well as my parents.

Q: What did you gain after five years of studying lacquer at the University?

VDT: My lecturers there helped me much with their skillful and specialized knowledge. Besides, the university sometimes invited masters of lacquer painting as visiting lecturers, giving students like me new understandings in lacquer techniques. However, as time went by, I could not stop to think that I needed to do things differently, my own way.

Q: Were you trying to justify yourself because you were not good at drawing?

VDT: I know some artists who are not good at drawing and try to follow abstraction as the only solution for their art. I’m not good at drawing but I do not see it as a serious problem. Instead, the more important thing in my mind was that I needed to be different.

Q: How to compare your lacquer painting with other artists’work?

VDT: There are three key points. First, people often think about big parts of plain surface and about conventional spaces in lacquer painting. Therefore, I escape from this common thinking, everything in my painting seems to be utterly smashed, suggestive, not descriptive. Second, I never use eggshell which has been almost indispensable in Vietnamese lacquer painting. Third, since I was a student, I have never used gold papers and later, silver papers on my painting because these materials seem to me more like fine handicraft than painting. I experimented with other colored materials, whatever I could have, to achieve the desired effects. However, this is my own viewpoint in working with lacquer. I don’t have any idea to negate other artists’ ways of working with lacquer.

As you see, Master Nguyen Gia Tri used eggshell in his marvelous lacquer paintings. On the other hand, until recently, it was not considered good to use Japanese paints for lacquer painting and I myself even thought so. However, I have finally recognized that Japanese or Vietnamese materials are all equally good because the good or the bad depends completely on artists – the users of materials but not on the materials.

Q: Can it be said that lacquer is like a partner in your creation and you need to understand this partner to develop your artistic career?

VDT: No, lacquer is not my partner. Lacquer is more than just my companion.

Q: You seemed to have reached a turning point in your artistic viewpoint. Was this a result of your graduate studies?

VDT: What I appreciated the most about my lecturers was their characters and personalities, both as lecturers and artists, helped me recognize more clearly about the way an artist should do and behave to his own art pieces, especially about the openness to differences. Therefore, step by step, I have conceived my own direction in art, of my hardiness in working with lacquer. Only lacquer can help me to seek for or to create my own fantasy of reality, dreaming my own dreams of something that might be never happen but bring to me the peacefulness in my mind and my heart.

(quoted from interviews by Dao Mai Trang in the book Imaginary Land)