Viet Nam News
Nguyễn Đăng Phú is a veteran illustrator. He is a contributor to dozens of newspapers and magazines, such as Văn Nghệ Công An (Police Literature and Art); Hà Nội Mới Cuối Tuần (Weekend New Hà Nội) and Văn Nghệ Quân Đội (Army Literature and Art). He has won many Vietnamese and International awards including Bronze Medal at the International Graphic Exhibition in Brno, Czech Republic in 1986; a prize at a poster contest held by Polish Lapolone magazine and many prizes at national poster competitions. Four posters by Phú are kept in the Việt Nam National Fine Arts Museum’s collection.
His works are displayed at an exhibition which opened last week at Exhibition House at No16 Ngô Quyền Street in Hà Nội. The exhibition is being held by Văn Nghệ Quân Đội (Army Literature and Art) magazine to celebrate its 60th birthday.
Artist Phú talks about his work as one of the permanent illustrators at the magazine.
What led you to illustrate for works of literature and forged your strong attachment to the work?
I began to illustrate in 1974 when I was working at Hải Phòng Newspaper. It provided me with a little knowledge of newspaper layout. My work involved sketching and drawing posters. My colleagues from Việt Nam Fine Arts Association’s graphic branch and I organised two exhibitions displaying our artworks. I became known thanks to those exhibitions.
I have made about 3,000 illustrations so far.
Could you explain the difference between an illustrator and a painter?
It’s quite different. A painter depends on nothing and he feels free to create artworks with his own inspiration and emotion. On the contrary an illustrator has to read a work of literature before he can depict the content. He absolutely depends on the writing before the art.
The illustrator needs to understand the story and then he can express what is the most striking to him through his drawing. In my personal opinion it will not be interesting if the illustration and the story do not match. At present, there are a number of ways to think about illustration. For example some people think that illustration and the story need not match because illustration is only decoration for magazines. However, the main idea is to match the illustration and story.
Illustration means to interpret or provide a visual explanation of a story. I know that authors like illustrations because they make their story more eye-catching on the page. The author thinks of the illustrator as one of his special readers. If the illustrator is famous in his own right the author will be more proud of the art and his work will be more valuable.
I know that some people are keen on collecting illustrations or some others buy magazines because of the nice illustrations. My friend surprised me when he showed me his collection of my illustrations.
Have you ever illustrated without reading the story? Have you had to draft many times?
Yes. I was asked to illustrate for an editorial office. It was very urgent and they told me the plot of the story.
Whether I had to draft many times or not, it depends on different periods. At the beginning, I had to draft many times but now I’m more skilful. One important thing is that it is important to know about the style of each newspaper and magazine. Sometimes authors such as Chu Lai, Đỗ Bích Thúy and Nguyễn Hữu Quý like my illustrations and they ask me for the original to hang in their house.
Are you sad when people said that they rarely remember the illustrator?
I think only people who have not experienced the work have said that. It is not correct. When master Bùi Xuân Phái was alive he was not a best-selling painter. But as an illustrator he works hard and he is known by his illustrations. His paintings later became popular artworks. Illustration provides a stable income for many artists. I have a passion for illustration.
Do you have any illustrations that became independent artworks?
Yes, some illustrations become paintings. Certainly there is difference between illustration and painting. When I develop an illustration into a painting it requires professional technique such as layout. An illustration is simpler.
Which prize do you remember most during your career?
My award at the poster contest held in Poland was a package sent to me through the post office. I still remember that it was package measuring one-metre in length and was not too heavy. It was very precious at that time. About 20 people in my family dressed in neat clothes and awaited my return with the award. My oldest uncle took great care to open the package with the agreement of all family members.
When the package was opened it was an axe in a Polish royal style which dumbfounded all of us. This axe award was a milestone to me. — VNS