Artist gives traditional-modern portraits a uniquely royal touch

August 21, 2022 - 08:06
Nguyễn Ngọc Gia Bảo (Bảo Nguyễn)’s popularity soared among art lovers in Việt Nam soon after the first of his colorful portraits was launched in the market.

Nguyễn Ngọc Gia Bảo (Bảo Nguyễn)’s popularity soared among art lovers in Việt Nam soon after the first of his colourful portraits was launched in the market.

Bảo Nguyễn’s works feature a flamboyant blend of traditional and modern royal customs and accessories highlighted with what he calls pop colours. He spoke to Việt Nam News reporter Thu Ngân about pursuing his dream despite early rejection of his efforts.

Limited editions: A series of Bảo Nguyễn’s print paintings.

Inner Sanctum: Please tell us a bit about yourself.

I'm Nguyễn Ngọc Gia Bảo. My art name is Bảo Nguyễn. I graduated from the HCM City University of Fine Arts in 2016. I studied painting, especially focusing on painting on silk. I thought that silk painting was the best way for me to play with colours and apply some techniques I can’t do with lacquer and oil paintings.

Of late, I have experimented with some new painting methods and new materials. I create print painting artworks on traditional paper. The most popular topic is portrait and my characters wear traditional costumes inspired by the Nguyễn Dynasty. On each artwork, I add the contemporary by using pop colours and mixing modern accessories. All my artworks are limited editions.

After four years of trying my best, I am very happy to get good feedback from people.

Inner Sanctum: You said that you studied traditional arts. What inspired to make the changes you have done?

As I said earlier, I chose silk painting because I love meticulous things. I also have a special love for contemporary art. I always wanted to add contemporary art features to silk paintings. In Việt Nam, however, it is not easy to do ‘strange’ things.

Years after graduating, I was not successful in bringing modern things to a traditional art, especially silk paintings.

The general Vietnamese thought is that silk painting is something traditional so people didn’t like my paintings. For years, I was sad that I could not live off my work, my talent.

During that time, to earn a living, I worked with many designers in Việt Nam. However, I never thought of quitting my pet project. I still pursued my desire to bring traditional and contemporary arts and fashion together.

Actually, these ideas had come to me many years ago, but I did not know how to start and how to make them come true.

I have a special liking for the fancies of dynasties in Việt Nam and other countries like the UK, Brunei and Thailand, especially their customs. Vietnamese dynasties in particular had many features that I found inspiring.

One day, I decided to try a self-portrait, taking inspiration from King Khải Định on his trip to Europe.

When the picture, which was 90x90cm in size, was finished, I did not feel satisfied, feeling it still lacked something. I decided to change all the colours, using pop tones and adding more modern fashion accessories. When this was done, I posted it on my Facebook page. In several hours, facebook friends surprised me with many likes. I was flying over the moon.

With the energy sent by friends, I started the second one, drawing a woman in two weeks. While my character still retained Nguyễn Dynasty customs, her fashion accessories were all modern. Posting on my facebook, I received many likes and comments. Everybody said this unique mix and match was strange and attractive. They loved it and suggested I do more of this.

One day, a customer contacted me and said she wanted to buy my work. Then she commissioned me to draw her family in the same style, wearing Nguyễn Dynasty attires with modern accessories like bags and sunglasses. The work was completed in more than a month and my client said “wow” when she got it. She was very happy. The work hung on her house’s wall attracted her friends. Thus many people came to know of my work and I began receiving many orders.

Artist: Bảo Nguyễn

Inner Sanctum: Why print painting?

Many people have asked me this question. The mention of paintings makes most people think of oil or lacquer paintings. For me, however, it is an art in which the artist shows his idea on a surface. The most important thing is how the idea is transmitted and made real, and if it touches the viewers’ hearts.

The meticulousness that I love did not work as well as I liked with both lacquer and oil paintings. For example, I could not get the exact colour I wanted on a lacquer painting. The oil paintings did not help me show the contemporary feel that I targeted. It was after many years of trials that I found that print drawing was the most suitable method for me. With print, I am able to easily show all of my ideas as well as use pop colours and contemporary art that I love.

In fact, many people are still prejudiced against print paintings as they think that paintings should be an art done directly by hand and paints. The world over, print paintings are already popular, but it is something new in Việt Nam. I am very lucky that my clients are people with open minds to accept new things and they all love my paintings.

In June, other artists and I organised an exhibition of our works. I wanted people to come and see firsthand what a print painting was. Luckily, I received a lot of positive feedback.

Inner Sanctum: As you get many orders, how do you balance your artistic impulse with financial targets?

It is true that I have received many orders in recent times. However, creativity remains my first priority. That is what I still spend time on. I update myself everyday with what is happening in the art and fashion worlds. I also keep trying new material in my works.

For instance, on a new painting I tried acrylic colours and gold. I have tried out many traditional and imported papers. I have found a way to mix Vietnamese and imported papers in a way that helps me blend traditional and contemporary arts in my paintings.

I have also started to bring animals and architecture into my paintings. I think I will never stop creating and being creative.

Goodness me: A customer admires her portrait done by Bảo Nguyễn.

Inner Sanctum: What is the artwork you like best and what are your future plans?

To me, there is no best artwork. The new work should be better than the earlier one. To date, my latest and biggest collection is a series of nine portraits. In this collection, I have painted a king on nine planets. In each picture, he has different shades that reflect his character in different worlds.

Like my other artworks, the king in this collection wears Nguyễn Dynasty costumes with modern accessories. And I use pop colours.

In the future, I hope to open my own gallery where people who love my style can come and enjoy new artworks. People who want to learn more about print paintings can also come.

I also intend to register my artwork as NFT and use the money earned to support disadvantaged people. VNS