Nguyen Thanh Hoa at Tu Do Gallery

by Long Nghi

Source: Asian Art News Magazine – March/April, 2003 - page 85

Since he began painting, Nguyen Thanh Hoa (Nguyen Phan) has committed himself to documenting life’s rich moods in his small seaside hometown of Phan Thiet. His pallette is somber and his style approaches realism. Focusing on the commonplace of the places and people he encounters, Hoa reveals their interior and exterior lives at work and play. His still lifes are images of rattan baskets, earthenware pots, and crabs, shrimp, and fish.

However mundane the subjects. Hoa takes a straight-forward approach in depicting them and often finds a contemplative quality present. Generally he works methodically with the main subjects and the backgrounds using a somewhat meager, yet tonally rich, palette of dominant brown, ochers, sienna, and red. By applying several layers of smooth color to a painting, he adds one complimentary tone over another resulting in an exquisite sheen. His series of still lifes of crabs and fish lying either in rattan baskets or on banana leaves are exemplary works. Their heads turn in different directions, whether in shadow or light, their eyes appear wary and anxious.

Many of his paintings about people tell the same story and share the same feeling of apprehension and vulnerability. "The Never Hung Curtain" (2000) is a typical visual account that renders the angst of a woman traversing obsession through the magic play of light and dark. After having dressed and made up carefully, she sits ruefully in a half-decorated living room, one half of a pair of curtains hung on one side of a window, the other on the back of a chair. She seems as if she is preparing to receive a lover. Suddenly, she realizes how everything has turned into despair, just as the last feeble twilight outside the small window of her room. She is plunging into a deep pensive mood, oblivious of the flower vase that is still on the floor, the curtain piece to be hung, and even the fact that she has yet to put on her shoes.

As in other paintings, the human figure here receives the focus of flickering light: here it plays lightly on her violet dress, bare feet, sinewy hand, and half of her right cheek. The radiance stands out boldly against the surrounding murkiness where a mystifying power is suggested. Such contrast, together with the motionless, severe posture of the woman sitting within the gloomy living room setting, creates a subdued environment in which there is a growing tension in the silence.

Over the years, Nguyen Thanh Hoa has noticeably fined his skill in seducing the viewer with the softness of his colors and the gentle movement of light and shadow. At the same time, he alludes to a distant and unrevealed destination in his art as he fills ordinary moments with greater meaning.