Viet Nam News
Inner Sanctum: How did you develop a passion for glass painting?
Though I was born in the north, I picked Huế for my tertiary education. I studied painting at the Huế University of Arts and scenic beauty of Huế inspired me a lot. However, the city’s landscapes and artistic structures have already been very popular among artists that younger generations have to find rare or new aspects to work on. This thought was in my mind when I visited the Huế Citadel once. The old beautiful glass paintings there inspired me to start researching this art form and developed a passion for it.
Inner Sanctum: Are there disadvantages in choosing this art form, career-wise?
Glass painting is my passion. I have another job. After my graduation in 2010, I was recruited by the Huế City culture authorities. At that time, I felt I really needed a job to earn my living and keep nurturing my passion. Until now there is no market for glass paintings. People seem to have forgotten about them. I have taken my paintings to a trade fair but only a few sold. Actually, my acquaintances are the main consumers of my paintings.
The new socio-economic situation has set glass paintings aside from both art and decoration needs. Thus getting people to know about glass paintings and making them popular again in modern society is the most challenging aspect of keeping up with my passion.
Inner Sanctum: Given that there is no market, how have you managed to keep up your passion?
I’ve found big encouragement from my wife. She was my university mate and she also chose to walk on a tough path – silk paintings, which are also not very popular in the art community. This background has helped her understand the difficulties I face. Her encouragement gives me the energy to practise.
Painting on glass is time consuming because they are reverse paintings, which mean painters have to paint in reverse on the back of a glass panel so that it looks normal in the front. It took me almost four years to become fluent in reverse paintings. I started in 2013 and had my paintings’ debut in 2016. Fortunately, my friends, who are also artists, appraised my works and said they all look good from an artistic angle. It proved that my practice is working. I can say that the greatest thing that I have done to keep up my passion is to practise.
Inner Sanctum: What is the biggest hindrance to bringing glass paintings back to life?
It seems to me that no one cares about glass paintings. Of course, glass paintings of the old days are recognized as a valuable legacy. I mean glass paintings bought by grassroots people, such as those hung in a room, decorate an altar or some other sacred ornamental purposes. People can find many other types of art for their homes and places of worship. They look down on the “disadvantages” of glass paintings, including fragility, heaviness and difficulty to transport.
Artists who were born in families with a tradition of glass paintings have now given up. I know a lecturer working at the university who quit his family job of glass paintings because there is no market for his works. I have visited the villages of Gia Hội, Bao Vinh, and Kim Long around Huế, once well-known for the craft, but no artisans in these localities continue this work.
Royal glass paintings are preserved well in the monuments but conservation rules have prevented me from accessing them for research. Thus I can say that the main obstacles to the return of glass paintings is the lack of a market and the lack of live material for artisans to study.
Inner Sanctum: Is there any hope for glass paintings and artisans like you?
I have different types of products, including paintings on rectangular glass panels of different sizes, paintings on tanks used for raising ornamental fish, paintings on glass jars for nice light effects, and paintings on glass flower vases. All these products are favoured by customers who visit my workshop. Some of them are quite young and have shown a strong fondness for folk themes like Mouse Weddings in Đông Hồ paintings. These give glass paintings new hope, I think.
But the bigger delight comes from organisers of the upcoming Festival for Craft Villages held in Huế in late April. They have listed me a representative for the art of glass paintings. This means glass paintings will be introduced to a wide range of people. I hope to take this opportunity to catch public attention and attract customers. My wife and I are preparing items to show at the event, and certainly, we are full of hope. — VNS