by An Vu
|Heart of glass: Co Gai Quan Ho (The Quan Ho Girl), a painting on glass by artist Pham Hong Vinh. — VNS Photo
For nearly 20 years, artist Pham Hong Vinh has worked to make a name for himself as a glass painter. His skilful hands have turned seemingly soulless pieces of glass into colourful and shapely products.
The art of glass painting has existed for more than 15 years, with origins in Europe. Though a misleading name, this kind of painting is actually created by fusing many colourful pieces of glass together. In Viet Nam, glass painting is primarily used in churches.
However, Vinh taught himself a new way to use the art.
"Glass painting sculptures consist of a pane of glass with a variety of designs on it," Vinh says while meticulously assembling the final pieces of his work in his private exhibition in Ha Dong City's Ly Thuong Kiet Street.
Some viewers have expressed appreciation for the elegant combination of tradition and modernity, especially in colour, after viewing his work.
The 52-year-old says he loves glass painting and wants to keep pursuing his hobby until the end.
"When I started this costly business, I had to buy lots of nail polish at VND20,000 per bottle to make the colours. We used imported glass, which is very expensive, and had no communication network, as we do today, to introduce our products to the public. I failed several times but it taught me how to stand up again," says Vinh.
Upon these words, Vinh points to one of his latest works, a vividly polished glass painting depicting a couple of xam singers (blind buskers).
The painting, which is 1.2m in width, shows a poor husband and wife in their tattered clothing. The man wears wooden shoes while his wife is without them.
"I really have an obsession with xam singers and have spent a long time studying them, the way they sing, what they wear, their musical instruments. Without this kind of study, I could not make a work persuasive enough to viewers. The hardest part is fully understanding how they sing."
"Through time, xam singing struggles to maintain its original sound. The people who sings xam used to be countryman, but now most of singers are in the city. They also have bands supporting them, unlike true xam performers who only sing. The woman in this picture has given her only shoes to her husband. They are poor but they have love for each other. That is why I want to honour them," he adds.
Vinh confesses that his love for national history is never exhausted. He tries as much as possible to visit museums, pagodas and temples to study their historical objects. As for him, "the deeper I go, the more my paintings become alive."
Among his collection, Long Cuon Thuy (Dragon and Water) is a mixture of the dragon images Vinh has seen inside Thang Long Royal Citadel and Bai Dinh Pagoda.
"Normally, a dragon only has three to four claws, but from what I've learned, a real one must have five claws. It is the true spirit of the Vietnamese dragon," he says.
Vinh insists that glass paintings are a great endeavour. "In other kinds of paintings, you can cover up a wrong colour with another colour. But in glass painting, if you misuse a colour, you will have to start over again," he says.
Beside art painting, Vinh also works on civil architecture projects: walls, glass partitions, and home roofs.
At the moment, Vinh is venturing into a new field that produces 3D glass paintings.
"I think it will be an interesting adventure in Viet Nam. I have seen many exhibitions in foreign countries with 3D paintings that create magnificent visual effects. You can see many glass layers heaped together that create hollowed out looks," he smiles.
The only thing that concerns him now is the shortage of customer demand. "My customers are mainly contractors, but now they are ordering fewer products. However, I believe in the rise and development of Vietnamese glass painting. It will never be defeated," Vinh says. — VNS