Updated  
August, 31 2014 18:03:20

Vietnamese painter earns fame with nudes

Bold statement: The painter typically uses "dazzlingly bright"colours for the female form, while changing his palette for other subjects.

Overseas customers have been won over by Do Son's work, which primarily features nude women. Ha Nguyen and Hong Dieu report.

Do Son is one of only a handful of contemporary Vietnamese artists whose paintings of nude women can be found on prominent display in various places around the world.

An Australian businessman who keeps a collection of nude paintings was deeply impressed with Son's work, which to him looked as natural, lively and realistic as a coloured photograph. "I could see the beauty of Vietnamese women through the eyes of Son. I will be buying one or two of his paintings for my collection in Australia," said the businessman, who declined to reveal his name.

In fact, Son is more famous abroad than at home. "I only have a few Vietnamese clients but I have lots of foreign ones. They seem to like my paintings more," the artist said.

Describing his busy daily routine, Son said he would be out of his home and at a park doing his regular exercises and searching for a model for his paintings from 5am till 1.30pm noon. After lunch, from 1.30pm to 6pm, he would be totally focused on painting.

"No one would believe a person with a lumpish body like Son would dare to paint nudes, a sensitive and hot subject in Viet Nam," said fellow painter Le Thiet Cuong.

The artist has so far produced more than 200 nude paintings since 1994, and 40 of the large paintings he has made have already been solved.

Cornering the market: Painter Do Son has carved out a niche for himself by focusing on female nudes.

Born in Bac Ninh in 1944, Son moved to the capital during the 1990s and has lived there ever since. For work displayed in national fine arts exhibitions, he has won two awards: a silver medal for his painting on the war with France in 1980 and a gold medal for his painting on the war with America in 1984.

His work has been displayed at fine arts museums in Viet Nam and Singapore. Do Thi Minh Phuong, Son's second daughter, told Viet Nam News that several of her father's paintings had also been displayed in the White House and in various European countries.

Son recalled: "When I decided to change the subject of my paintings from soldiers to nude women, many of my colleagues advised me against it, saying nudes had already been painted by a lot of world-famous world painters. They told me not to even try investing effort in it."

But he refused to heed his colleagues' advice. "I spent a lot of my time and worked hard on my paintings. Finally, I have succeeded," he said.

Lovers of nude paintings say Son's work can be easily recognised through its colours. "I don't like using mixed colours. I prefer to use original colours for my paintings. For example, I often use dazzlingly bright colours to paint a woman," the artist said.

"I was interested in painting ordinary women, particularly labourers and residents of rural and coastal areas," the painter said.

Son recalled that he began painting nudes in 1994. "I was living in the northern province of Bac Ninh, with the Cau River running through it. In the afternoons, I would see local women bathing themselves in the river. At first, I felt shy and slightly ashamed about using them as subjects, but the natural gleam and beauty of their bodies and their manner of speech and movement inspired me to paint them in the nude. That's why the models of my paintings are different."

"I will never forget the depth and intensity of my feelings when I began working on my first nude painting, which I called Tam Tien (Women bathing nude in the river)," Son said.

Asked where he would find his model, the artist revealed that he would often find them bathing by the sea during summer. "Every year, I would spend several months touring the beaches, from Vung Tau to Ha Long Bay, where I would meet many local and foreign women."

A good number of painters have been known to have used their imagination to make some of their nude paintings, but not Son, who said he only painted what he saw in real life.

He showed an example of one of his paintings, which was published in a book. "The woman in this painting had returned from service in the army. She inspired me with her simplicity and honesty. A good number of beautiful women could not become my model because they are too colourfully made up and too smartly dressed. I don't like sketching these women."

A review of Son's paintings shows a preference for married women aged 30 years and over young girls. It also shows a preference for large-sized paintings: Mua Xuan Sa Pa (Spring in Sa Pa) measures 2.2m by 1.6m and The Buffalo measures 1.2m by 1.6m. Both were purchased by the King of Morocco.

"I prefer them large because during my visits to Singapore, France and Germany, I noticed that collectors there would often hang such large paintings of nudes on their walls," Son explained.

His lifestyle differs from that of other painters, who often have many friends and hang out with them during wine or beer drinking sprees. Son prefers to spend all of his free time painting.

He revealed that he sometimes found it necessary to repeatedly revise his work. Son also refuses to sell any of his paintings to prospective clients who have little or no knowledge or understanding of painting as an art. "It is while talking with them that I find out that they don't know and don't understand my paintings," he said.

The painter also revealed that his work has been taking a toll on his health. Phuong confirmed this, saying her father has been suffering from allergies resulting from exposure to various kinds of paint. "In spite of our advice for him to take a short rest and have his ailment treated, he is now in Cua Lo Beach, looking for female models," said Phuong. — VNS

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