Viet Nam News
by Ngọc Trâm
At the age of 80, Nguyễn Thị Phi Loan is still connected to the realm of art thanks to her work in the medium of paper and fabric. With no prior sketches or pre-set themes, she creates entire worlds by mixing colours with images of storks, flowers, trees and the diversity of life.
Loan worked as a geologist before she started her art career, beginning with collage art at the age of 60.
Her previous career has helped her in colour mixing and material collaging. “It’s provided me also with my knowledge of nature, animals, decoration and people’s lives when I create my works,” she said.
Loan’s artworks show viewers a complex interior world that contains emotions from love, anger and anxiety to happiness and sadness. For her, every piece and every colour of paper is a special detail to make the whole picture richer.
Before working on collage out of paper and fabric, she had studied fabric art collage, oil painting and art acrylic.
“I have tried many forms of art and materials, like rice and old leaves, etc, but paper and fabric give me inspirations that I never had before,” she said.
Talking about the materials that she used for her works, Loan said, “With paper, I often use old magazines and newspaper. The pages in magazines are glossy while other types of paper, such as newspaper, are much spongier and therefore they serve different purposes. As long as people still read newspapers and magazines, even in this hi-tech era; then there will still be materials for me to create.”
“Using silk, cotton or denim, I can improvise based on the fabric colour and shape, and from there I imagine the whole picture. For example, if I saw a piece of fabric with a light brown colour and a curved shape, then I would use that to create a cow from it. Unlike paper, the fabric needs to be glued before it is cut, because the fabric needs to be hard enough so it can be shaped to the artist’s will,” she added.
Textured: Fabric collage Yểu điệu (Charming), 2014, by Phi Loan. — VNS Photos Ngọc Trâm
Collage art became popular in many countries in the 20th century. The method, and the word, was first popularised by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in 1912. However, this genre is still new in Việt Nam.
Loan’s first exhibition entitled Colour was held in 2005. After that came Simple Things (2007), Flowers and Grasses (2008), Sudden Inspiration (2008) and Sắc Tâm (Colour of the Soul) (2010). Her works were also exhibited at international exhibitions including the International World Women Artist exhibition in HCM City in 2012 and Asian Artists Exhibition held in Taiwan. She held an individual exhibition in Germany in March 2015.
This year the Sắc Tâm exhibition showed 30 of Loan’s works in Hà Nội in August. This event marked 20 years of her journey with art collage and also conveyed the profound love and nostalgia of a Hanoian who has been away from the city for 10 years; the artist has now lived in Hồ Chí Minh City for a decade.
“My mother has many memories about Hà Nội. She expresses them in her paintings, one of which is Phố Cổ (Old Town) (2014) in which she showed the beauty of the Old Quarter with depth, while another one – Phố (Town) (2004) – was made with lively colours. They also show her affection for the scenic spots of the city and feelings of women in the pictures,” Loan’s daughter, Lê Bạch Hoa, shared at the exhibition.
“The artworks are beautiful, and I think her style of art, put the fabric and paper together makes it unique” said Rad Kivette, a visitor at Sắc Tâm exhibition.
Another visitor to the exhibition, Nguyễn Vy Sa, said, “My first impression is of the material used to make this pictures. When I think about an artwork, it often involves painting and drawing instead of using paper and fabric to make collage pictures. And I also admire her, for her delicacy in using pieces of paper and fabric to make an artwork with care to every small detail.”
Prolific: Paper collages by artist Phi Loan.
Never too old to live with passion
At the age of 80, Loan is still working with her collage art and at the same time teaching and working on charity activities. Half of the money sale of pictures at her Sắc Tâm exhibition will be donated to "Hands For Hope" fund to help disabled and poor children.
“We never should think that we are too old, we should find a passion that is meaningful to the society and for ourselves,” she said.
Of course age creates certain problems for the artist. “My hands got muscle strain from doing the art work, it is difficult for me sometimes to move my fingers due to my age, but I often get over it. There are people who can draw without hands, why can’t I?” she said with a smile as she demonstrated cutting paper with her hands.
“There is no stopping point for art. Even when I’m 90 or 100 years old I will still continue making art, for collage is my passion.” VNS