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Modern rice paintings grain a following

Update: August, 18/2013 - 14:46

Finishing touches: Dang Thi Thuy Kieu perfects her rice painting in her family's sitting room. — Photos courtesy of Thuy Kieu

by Cam Ky and Bui Tuyet

Vietnamese rice has gained a new lease on life thanks to rice paintings researched and developed by a young girl from Central Highlands province of Kon Tum.

Dang Thi Thuy Kieu, 25, a resident in Hoa Binh Commune in Kon Tum City, graduated from the Faculty of Multimedia Design at Dong Nai College of Decorative Arts but found her calling among the pioneers of rice paintings.

"When I was a student, I became enchanted by the art after a schoolmate showed me her rice paintings. I found that grafting grains of rice together was a novel way to create something," Kieu said.

She started researching and studying the way to make the paintings and after many failures she finally found her way.

Rice paintings are also made in India, there the grains of husked rice are dyed and dried, then glued to paper or canvas. Whereas, in Viet Nam, artists roast the grains to create more natural colours, then meticulously put each grain together to make a collage. Finally, the artists spray varnish treatment and chemical substances to the painting to prevent mold and termite infestation as well as preserve the colours.

Masterpiece: Vinh Ha Long (Ha Long Bay in the nothern province of Quang Ninh)

According to Kieu, roasting was the most important and difficult step because the grains were easily cracked, broken or burnt. To have a satisfactory batch, she said, it sometimes took her three hours to roast the grains.

"By manipulating the flame, I can create dozens of different colours from pale ivory to yellow, light brown, dark brown and black. Yet there are many different colour hues that I haven't discovered so far," Kieu said.

"All of roasted grains are hot colours, so harmoniously combining those is hard work."

In fact, a connoisseur of painting could evaluate artists' skill and aesthetic sense through colour combination of their works of art.

All steps of the rice painting are done manually, therefore it requires 3-10 days to a month to complete a work, depending on the size and difficulty of the work, Kieu said.

Plans for a rice painting gallery in her hometown began to take shape in her mind after she began creating paintings and Kieu used her family's sitting-room to display her works.

Her father, Dang Kim, said she faced many difficulties.

"When my daughter decided to pursue her passion for rice paintings, we advised her to find other work that she was trained for at the college. Rice paintings were new products and we thought it would be difficult to sell them," Kim said.

Heavenly artwork: Nha Tho Go Kon Tum (Kon Tum wooden church in the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum).

However, with the creation and enthusiasm of the youth, she found her pictures were welcomed by customers.

"My rice paintings attracted not only local customers but also foreigners. I have received orders from a small US-based charitable organisation," she said.

Kieu has since done hundreds of rice paintings of different sizes and diverse themes, from landscapes, animals and flowers, to religious scenes and portraits. Her paintings on subjects from the Central Highlands, such as Chieu Tren Buon (Highland village in the afternoon), Nha Tho Go Kon Tum (Kon Tum wooden church), have attracted great interest.

"A beautiful rice painting not only requires harmony of colour, tight grain arrangements and a beautiful layout but also has its own soul, transmitted by the artists," Kieu said.

"I honour Vietnamese farmers, including my parents, by using a modest material that's easy to find in Viet Nam to create art to wow international audiences. I hope that teaching people how to make rice paintings will help the style develop further," Kieu said.

Kieu has helped train nearly 10 other young people in her hometown how to make the paintings. Moreover, she also has taught children who have disabilities or orphans at monasteries in the province to perfect the paintings, according to Nguyen Thi Chien, a nun at the city's Tan Phu church. — VNS


All bases covered: Nha San Tay Nguyen (stilt houses in Central Highlands).

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