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Painter wired to work in different medium

Update: December, 19/2012 - 16:03


Concentration: Painter Do Nam has spent more than 40 years honing his craft. He works with many materials but is best known for his electric wire art.
The face and character of President Ho have driven many artists to paint his portrait but so far only one man has produced a sketch of the leader from electric wires. Ngoc Giang reports

From a distance, the portrait of the late President Ho Chi Minh by painter Do Nam looks like a normal painting. But taking a closer look, you'll be astonished to see that the colourful picture is not made from paint, but from thousands of tiny electric wires.

The life and personality of President Ho have inspired numerous artists. But Nam is so far the only painter in the country to produce a collage of the leader from electric wires.

Nam was born and raised in a poor family in the northern province of Nam Dinh. Since childhood, he loved painting and painted on everything he could – even sand.

Nam volunteered to join the army in 1959 at the age of 20. During his three years in the military, he resumed his studies, which had been interrupted due to the family's poverty, and continued to dream of becoming a painter.

Nam often used his free time to draw. His comrades soon realised his talent and asked him to sketch their portraits as souvenirs for families and girlfriends. This also allowed him to hone his skills.

When he returned to his hometown, he took the entrance exam to the Ha Noi Fine Arts College. After passing, he felt his dreams were finally coming true and devoted himself fully to painting. The young student earned his first success when his sketch After the Battle on Height 544 was displayed at a national fine arts exhibition. Today, it can still be seen at the Viet Nam Fine Arts Museum.

"I nearly gave up studying because of hunger," he said. "In the army, I got used to eating 24kg of rice a month, but at college, I was given a rice coupon of only 13.5kg."

Hungry all the time, he could barely focus on his studies. But art gave him an outlet to channel his desperation.

"Any time I felt hungry, I started to draw," the artist said. "When I drew, I forgot my hunger. Gradually, I got used to the meals."

After graduating from the college, he got a job at the Department of Culture and Information in the central province of Nghe An and continued studying at the Viet Nam University of Fine Arts. During his five years at the university, he immersed himself in painting. As his talent developed, Nam produced more valuable paintings, some of which were even shown abroad.

But life became difficult for Nam when he was appointed to teach in the southern province of Soc Trang in 1980. He stayed at the school dormitory while his wife and four children lived at a relatives' house 30km away and worked as farmers. Only on Sunday could he ride a bicycle to visit his family.


Popular: A picture of President Ho Chi Minh made from electric wires by painter Do Nam. — VNS Photos Ngoc Giang
At the age of 50, Nam decided to take early retirement so he could have time to paint.

The idea of ‘painting' with electric wires had been formulating in his mind for a long time. Their bright colours, he thought, would be ideal for fine art, and their durable plastic covering would stand up to time better than paint. However, he was forced to put off the project, as he could only find thick wires that would not be suitable for the job.

But when Nam moved to Can Tho City, he saw a pile of discarded phone wires at the Can Tho City Post Office. He realized he could make collages with the colourful and durable wires.

To make an electric wire painting, he first sketches the painting on carton. Then he cuts wires into millions of pieces of different sizes and carefully arranges them. Finally, the painter applies transparent glue to seal the wires in place.

"With other materials such as lacquer and oil canvas, it's not difficult to mix colours together. But with electric wires, each one has its own separate pigment, so I have to carefully arrange them to create harmonious blends of colour," Nam said.

Glancing at a painting of a young woman wearing a long dress and conical hat and standing on Can Tho City's Ninh Kieu wharf, it's nearly impossible to see that the work of art was created from electric wires rather than paint.

When Nam asked the city Department of Post and Telecommunications for discarded electric wires to make collages, the director took an interest in the project and commissioned Nam to make a world map to hang in the department's lobby. The result was spectacular, stretching over an area of 50sq.m.

Buzz about Nam quickly spread. In 2006, the Ho Chi Minh Museum at Nha Rong Wharf in HCM City ordered him to make 31 collages of President Ho to display at the museum.

For the project, he drew inspiration from thousands of photos and articles on the late president.

"The most difficult part was expressing his soul and wisdom through the eyes, forehead, beard, hair, gait and stance," Nam said. "Although I have never met President Ho, I - like all Vietnamese - feel a sacred love for him. Without President Ho, we would have no independence."

While Nam was working in Nghe An Province, President Ho wrote a letter to the provincial authorities prompting them to help returned soldiers continue their studies. For this reason, when Nam asked to go to university, he was immediately able to start studying at the University of Fine Arts.

"The more I learn about the life and career of President Ho, the more I realise that no matter how much I paint him, I cannot capture the true extent of his greatness," Nam said.

The subjects of his compositions are diverse, reflecting the colourful variety of life, but the dominant theme is President Ho and the national resistance movement he spearheadedà.

Many foreign tourists to Can Tho City see his electric wire art and ask him to create images of them that they can bring home as unique souvenirs. — VNS

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