Viet Nam News
By Trần Hoàng Nam
For painter Etcetera Nguyễn, Hà Nội is like a lively painting that brings endless inspiration to artists.
Nguyễn, born Nguyễn Quang Trường, left Việt Nam in 1988. Now he has returned from the US and plans to spend the rest of his life in his homeland.
He loves wandering and painting all around Hà Nội. Recently, the Kim Đồng Publishing House selected his sketches of Long Biên Bridge, Ô Quan Chưởng Gate, Đồng Xuân Market and the Old Quarter as illustrations for the book Hà Nội Rong Ruổi Quẩn Quanh (Wandering in Hà Nội) by the late author Băng Sơn.
After three years living in Thailand, Nguyễn settled in the US since 1991. He worked as a journalist at Viet Weekly magazine in California, where many Vietnamese people live. In 2006, when Việt Nam hosted APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum), he and two other reporters came to Việt Nam to report on the event and also record the current situation of the country.
It was his first time back in the homeland after 18 years away. He had the opportunity to go back to his old house and school and visit his friends. It was an emotional experience.
Buy and sell: Đồng Xuân Market.
“It’s also the first time I came to Hà Nội, witnessed the capital with real people and landscapes, not pictures that I saw in books,” he said.
“I was totally charmed by an ancient and tranquil city with street corners, roofs with moss, people walking by. Everything enchanted me.”
Nguyễn is not only a journalist. He studied fine arts professionally. He sketched everything he saw in Hà Nội. He respected these paintings and contemplated them everyday to ease his melancholy nostalgia.
Then, 30 of these paintings were selected for publication in the book by writer Băng Sơn.
“The book is a precious gift for me because I want to approach the city closer; I want to be a part of it,” he said.
Nguyễn began finding information about late painter Bùi Xuân Phái because he really enjoyed his paintings of Hà Nội. He also met painter Bùi Thanh Phương, Phái’s son, to talk about art.
“Phái’s sketches are an integral part of the Hà Nội culture,” Nguyễn said.
Seeking inspiration: Painter Etcetera Nguyễn wandering in Hà Nội to paint. Photo courtesy of the artist
“In just a few strokes, he can depict the shape and soul of Hà Nội streets. Unlike him, I live to bring many details of the streets to portray the busy, crowded lifestyle of the city.”
Nguyễn said he sees Hà Nội through the eyes of a Hanoian, who lives far from the motherland and wants to remember his hometown. As a reporter, he uses real materials more than his reminiscences to draw the city.
“I want to portray Hà Nội in a full and detailed manner. I was inspired by Phái’s paintings, but I try to draw through the eyes of an outsider who is passionate about the city’s history and culture.”
Nguyễn and his friends in the US once came back to Hà Nội in 2013 to create. They are members of the Vietnamese Artists Club in the US, which gathers Vietnamese people who have different occupations but share the same passion for art.
One of the memorable trips for him is the one to Trường Sa (Spratly) Archipelago in 2012. As a journalist, he has written many stories about national sovereignty, and he felt deeply moved when visiting the islands.
“Although I just stopped at the islands for a short time, I still had enough time to sketch the people and landscape of the archipelago.”
“With a collection of about 100 paintings of soldiers and the landscapes in the Spratlys, I organised an exhibition in California attracting many people to come.”
Old town: Ô Quan Chưởng Gate.
Once, Jairo Giraldo Villegas from Colombia, a Spanish teacher in Hà Nội, visited Nguyễn’s apartment on Đào Tấn Street. He bought two paintings. After four months of living and teaching Spanish in Hà Nội, Villegas was acquainted with the street scenes. He bought the paintings before returning home as he wanted to preserve beautiful memories of Việt Nam.
“Sometimes, people asked to buy my paintings right after I finished them,” Nguyễn said.
“For example, a French couple waited until I finished a sketch of Long Biên Bridge because it’s a place where they often come. They want to keep the memory of it.”
Nguyễn said every time he returns to Việt Nam, he always feels very excited.
“It is interesting that in this country, each region has its own culture. I’m sure that overseas Vietnamese will be also interested in the video clips that I have recorded and posted on the Vietweekly.com. It’s like going to the market, enjoying cuisine, fixing vehicles and bathing in the rain to recall their childhood," he said.
“Those days living in Hà Nội are the happiest days in my life.” — VNS