by Cong Thanh
Evergreen rice fields, friendly people and the quiet life in UNESCO recognised Hoi An have inspired Jean Cabane to paint on traditional do (poonah) paper over the past six years.
Au naturel: Paintings on do paper with natural ink. — vns Photos Hoai Nam
Cabane, 63, from Nimes in France, has exhibited his work at a gallery on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street in the ancient city since 2009, three years after settling in Cam Thanh Village.
The moustached Frenchman has shown his favourite 30 paintings at the French Cultural Centre on Le Hong Phong Street in Hue City till April 7 to promote the Hue Festival 2012 from April 7-15.
Following a 12-year job at a gallery in Nimes, Cabane only begun studying painting at 40, focused mainly on watercolours.
"Although painting has been a passion since childhood, it took me a while to get into it. I only started painting while teaching psychology to handicapped and underprivileged children at a primary school in Nimes," he explained.
"I first painted on normal paper, but found that Vietnamese do paper and ink, made by Duong O Village locals, suited me better," he said.
"In my search for dark colours I was impressed with Duong O ink, made from bamboo leaves, ash and charcoal soaked in rice-washing. The fermented mixture created a special dark pigment, despite its terrible smell."
Cabane added that while he used to also draw with Chinese ink, he no longer used chemical products.
Lost in love
Volunteering as a French teacher at Da Nang University in 2005, Cabane met and fell in love with Duong Thi Hoa one year later while searching for pigments.
"I saw him wondering down a crowded street and offered to help him find painting materials. We talked about art and life in both French and English. We ended up getting married and settling in a Cam Thanh villa, surrounded by paddy-fields," Hoa said.
"My knowledge of art and literature fuelled my love for Jean [Cabane]. We opened a gallery in Hoi An to display his art," she added.
Images of farmers working in rice fields, street vendors and romantic riverbanks are only some of the main topics in Cabane's work.
"His paintings depict the peace and beauty of life. There is little gap between him and nature," Hoa noted.
Cabane expressed his love for Vietnamese food and coffee in Hoi An.
"I can eat almost every type of local food, even shrimp sauce. My wife and I travel a lot and I often bring home sketches of landscapes from all corners of the country. It's a never ending topic of my work," he said.
"I love this country and spending time with its people. My Vietnamese is not so good, but I find that there are few barriers between me and Hoi An locals," he added.
"The city may be the best place I've ever lived. I would devote everything to art and life here." — VNS