Viet Nam Nostalgia
Bui Huu Hung
Enjoying Bui Huu Hung paintings
Art is often a representation of the general experience of mankind, but here, this representation is the artist’s own, wholly separate and unique. Bui Huu Hung’s works are beautifully varied, yet they centre around a common theme - the theme of recollection, of memory. He has discovered how to create this bittersweet feeling in his paintings, using soft lights to shine on things past, to revive past desires.
Hung’s work has a central theme, but simple names. Names such as “Mood”, “The past”, “Mother of Saint”, “Pagoda Teacher”, “By the fire” evoke a spirituality, a magic. This seemingly simple spirituality is Hung’s genius. His lucidity easily penetrates the soul of the viewer.
Hung’s style is unique, yet constant. This deliberate simplification of style easily a voids possible monotony and, instead, reaches the viewer in a more profound way. The uncomplicated square or nearly square shape of his paintings is yet another intentional simplification. This shape reminds the viewer of the “square and circle” “canon in Vietnamese tradition, the cradle of Vietnamese life. “Square and circle” expresses the desire to have good weather and simple life. The “square and circle” dogma is commonly accepted by students of art as representing the standard, simple value of beauty. The square shape of the paintings, together with the lack of a main colour, shows us a carefully planned arrangement. The human figure at centre of the painting and the large dusky space in the background, which seemingly dwarfs the human shape, is not restrictive, nor over – formulated.
The space is sky, wide with silent, dark colour, with blue, pink and white creating levels of “ time colour”. The viewer is left in a timeless state of memory, floating among the colours. There are a few colours – violet and blue for incense urns, traditional purple alcohol bottles and high - bottomed bowls - but their co-ordination brings the past alive.
As I stand in front of a painting. There is not one clear thing that I obtain, but nostalgia dots my mind. These memories I have already met once, lived with for a while, and forgot them. They come back in front of Hung’s works. Remembering my mother’s punishment for playing in the pagoda yard and getting soaked with summer rainwater – an empty belly. Remembering a clear, quiet summer noon, under the shadow of the grapefruit tree with a cool southern wind blowing, reading the diary of Mr. Nguyen Van Xe, “Remember Mr. Han Mac Tu”, our famous poet. This is a passage in which Tu’s mother cries at her son’s grave. “She looked much older than her age, and so many tears feel”. I stopped reading for a moment to remember Mr. Han Mac Tu, to sympathise with his mother, and to recollect a verse of his poem “Loneliness”.
“Oh God, it is terrible in mind
The loneliness lasts for so long”.
The power of Hung’s work is exemplified by the evocation of a vivid memory, which is clear and thought provoking.
By professor and art critic
Nguyen Ngoc Dung