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Retired chemist in his element with art

Update: October, 01/2013 - 08:00
A thousand words: Tran Quan Ngoc explains his paintings to writer Nguyen Thi Ngoc Hai during a recent event held to promote friendship between Viet Nam and Japan in HCM City. — VNS Photo Van Dat

During a recent event in HCM City to mark the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Viet Nam and Japan, Tran Quan Ngoc displayed his colourful sketches and paintings about Japan.

As a chemistry student at Moscow's Lomonosov University, Ngoc had a secret passion for painting.

Today, he's a veteran painter famous for his portraits and landscapes. But if it had not been for a chance encounter at university, he never would have embarked on a painting career.

One spring morning, he took a train to the suburbs to paint a still life of flowers and fruit.

After he started painting, he was surprised by the voice of an old man from behind him: "Keep doing your job. Don't worry about my presence. This has been my favourite place for several years."

Picture perfect: A painting by Ngoc features the ancient beauty of Japan.

The stranger, who introduced himself as a retired teacher named Kostia, told Ngoc that he was touched by his work, but that while the paintings had soul, the technique was not very good. He suggested that Ngoc attend a professional painting course.

Although the painter insisted that he was only an amateur, he arranged for Ngoc to take the rigorous admissions test at Lenin Pedagogical University's Fine Art Department.

At that time, Ngoc wondered why the stranger was respected by many lecturers at the university. He wanted to know who the man really was. But after introducing Ngoc to the school, the man disappeared.

Four years later, he painted a wooden house and his lecturer told him to show the painting to "Pautopxki".

"I was shocked to discover that the old stranger who had introduced me to the school was a famous Russian author. I had read several books written by him but I did not recognise his face. I tried to find him, but he had moved," he said.

Becoming a painter

From there, Ngoc took up the brush in earnest. In 1965 and 1967, he had two personal exhibitions in what was then the Soviet Union, followed eventually by one in Ha Noi in 1999 and group shows with other Ha Noi artists.

Ngoc's works are in private collections in Peru, the US, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Japan, Australia and Viet Nam.

At 75, the artist can still recall even the smallest details of his visit to Japan, when he made 100 sketches and paintings in roughly 40 days.

He painted images of ancient towns, Mount Fuji, food and souvenirs given to him by his friends.

"Although I stayed in the country for a short period of time, I saw that the Japanese were quite disciplined. Everything happened exactly on track. I was impressed with the Japanese, so I made several sketches of Japanese friends I met during my visit," Ngoc said.

The artist painted both sides of Japan: its ancient beauty and its modernity.

Having visited more than 50 countries, he has written articles, poems, music and more than 10 books, including Friends All Over the World, Around USA and Visiting Neighbouring Countries.

Asked what he would do with his more than 1,700 paintings and sketches, Ngoc said he would ask his children to donate the artworks to museums if they did not want to store them in their homes. — VNS



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