|Saying it in many ways: Lap finishes an oil painting. — VNS Photo Truong Vi
by Luong Thu Huong
On receiving an order from a newspaper office, Trinh Lap first makes himself a cup of coffee, and then sips it as he creates yet another cartoon.
Cartoon has long been an indispensable part of life for the artist, who mainly focuses on oil paintings and portraits.
"It is the moment which I really enjoy. At first, I drew cartoons just for fun, but gradually realised that it had become my passion, even my daily mission, when I began working with more newspapers as their illustrator," he says.
Born in 1946 in Ha Noi, Lap became passionate about painting when he was very young, although his parents did not work in the field of art. He had his first work published in a newspaper in 1963, when he was 17 years old.
It was his passion for art that encouraged him to study at the Ha Noi College of Industrial Fine Arts from 1978 to 1982 while working in an electro-mechanical company.
The turning point in Lap's art career came when he got an opportunity to study in Germany during the 1980s, where he was exposed to western modern art.
At that time, drawing cartoons was his main source of entertainment after a hard day's work. Some of his images were printed in a German newspaper.
After Lap returned to Viet Nam, drawing cartoons remained his hobby. Besides drawing for fun, he works as an illustrator and collaborates with many Vietnamese newspapers, including Viet Nam News and Lao Dong (The Labour).
Cartoon is often thought to be less difficult than other forms of art; however, it can be equally or even more sophisticated, because it requires more intelligence and a keen sense of humour.
"A successful cartoon has to be both, funny and meaningful, which is not easy at all, especially when no school offers courses in cartoon. A cartoonist has to be not only gifted but also experienced in life to enrich their creativity," Lap said.
|Deadly message: The caricature titled Hung Than Xa Lo (Highway Evil Geniuses) evokes the image of the Death riding on the street.
Coming up with an idea for each of his works is the toughest challenge, Lap says. "Different artists have different ways of finding inspiration. To me, funny stories and cartoons in newspapers are the main sources of inspiration."
"Years of drawing cartoons and illustrations for newspapers has helped me come up with ideas more easily. Now I am like a machine which composes art very smoothly, no matter what the topic is, as long as time allows it."
"While other forms of arts are constantly trying to modernise themselves with new methods of installation or performance, the cartoonist still seem to be content with the traditional cartoon," Lap says.
"So it is time they progress by following the trend begun by their counterparts," he says.
Bearing that in mind, he has decided to do something new with traditional caricature.
For the exhibition on traffic safety this year, he came up with the idea of creating 3D cartoons titled Bao Hiem Mu Bao Hiem Troi Noi (Insuring Unqualified Safety Helmets) and Hung Than Xa Lo (Highway Devils), which were displayed during the event.
Instead of being traditionally presented on A3-size paper, Lap's were shown as installations, which offered viewers a new experience with this form of art.
The cartoon titled Bao Hiem Mu Bao Hiem Troi Noi consists of a fake helmet with a bottle of glue stuck to its strap.
Despite its simplicity, the work strongly depicts the recklessness of drivers, one of the most serious traffic issues in Viet Nam.
The installation is also meant to convey a message and pose the question: "Are safety helmets meant to insure human life or vice versa?"
"The fashionable substandard helmet, the lifeless bottle of glue and the rubber tyres of children's bikes are put together to raise a voice, even produce a scream of warning," says Lap.
His second work looks even more impressive. It evokes the image of the Death riding on the street.
The installation titled Hung Than Xa Lo consists of figure 45 stuck on a bottle of wine placed in front of Death's chest. Wearing a cap and a shirt, Death is shown carrying a bottle of foreign brandy.
|Lampooned: The caricature sculpture titled Bao Hiem Mu Bao Hiem Troi Noi (Insuring Unapproved Helmets) mocks the recklessness of drivers. — Photos courtesy of Trinh Lap
What is remarkable about the work is that it shows the Reaper riding recklessly after consuming a bottle of beer and a grilled cuttlefish, which is often enjoyed with drinks. His vehicle, a "car" with one of its wheels about to fall off, looks like a coffin on wheels.
"That winebibber holding the steering wheel is the mass murderer who can be easily seen in many liquor shops along the highway," Lap says.
"Such alcoholics have contributed to the rising number of traffic deaths, which is higher than the number of Vietnamese who died in war," he says.
Lap says such meaningful works of art take much more time and effort than those created in the traditional way.
"The artist can draw a whole universe with strokes of his brush in seconds; however, creating art from lifeless materials with pincers, hammers, a saw and a drill is truly a great challenge. Constant disassembling and reassembling the works becomes normal."
All the materials are throw-away objects, such as an old shirt, a cap, bottles and a Halloween mask. "However, when such scraps are used properly, they become gold for the artist," Lap says.
The creativity and meaningful message of his two installations won the hearts of the organisers of the exhibition. They left a deep impression on the viewers and were ranked among the best works displayed during the event, which was held last June.
"This is the first time I have seen such installations. I think the works are very interesting and effective in transmitting the message the artist wants to convey. In this case, they significantly help raise drivers' awareness about protecting their own life and also the lives of others," said Nguyen Xuan Huyen, a visitor to the exhibition.
"My 3D 'spiritual children' have been unexpectedly welcomed by the viewers. I was so happy, because I have somehow contributed to installations, though I am not young anymore.
"Cartoon has moved beyond the 2D horizon into the boundless 3D space," Lap says.
"As soon as another exhibition on a social issue is opened, I will create more 3D cartoons and hope that they will again receive a positive response from the viewers." — VNS