Van Tho, as an instance in painting

The aspiration to revive fresh, innocent emotions of childhood or return to the instinctive life in every human bing does not solely belong to the industrialized, scientific rationalist West; it is omnipresent in the world now that the market economy is step by step infiltrating into everybody's mind, and humanitarian life is more and hampered by the pursuit of wealth and pragmatic apathetic calculations.

Artist Van Tho is seemingly aware of the weariness suffered by this mundane world and himself. And he tries to isolate himself from reality to take refuge in the purified, peaceful realm, which is fine art.

Vietnam Artist Van Tho  Self Portrait by Van Tho

Van Tho is lucky enough to preserve the sincerity and artlessness of a writer or an artist. He boldly departs from rules and conventions, breaks through the previous aesthetic barrier put up by himself to a style of painting which is liberal, instinctive, complex-free, like children's drawings.

He also learns from children the way to come up with a topic for painting in any place, from simple, daily stories to details of man's behavior in everyday life. These may be minor or momentary in the adult's view, but really have a certain meaning in children's mind, viz, the getting dressed, braiding hair, going for a walk all by oneself or more seemingly important events such as: "I got a distinction, Uncle", "Baby is Toddling", "Preparation for a Visit to the Public Garden"....All this may serve as a pleasure, an inspiration for painting.

And he sets about drawing as easily as children starting a game on a happy Sunday. He rejoices at using colors, fabricate fanciful "fine-art" stories utilizing any theme, any fleeting idea in his mind, provided that he could bring his game to an end and immensely release himself, not caring about refinery, prudence or perfection. Sometimes, Van Tho leaves in his pictures occasional patches of coarse, raw colors or scribbling brush strokes, now accidentally now intentionally yet this is always a plentiful freshness of colors and full freedom in creation.

In find Van Tho's taste in fine art so close to Matisse's. This is evidenced by his primary dazzing wild palette or purely eye-pleasing and relieving decoration. At the same time, Picasso's influence bold transformation of figures and a marked primitive imspiration. Van Tho often paints wild, crumpled, disfigured faces, and fictitious, distorted human figures, added here and there by a savage, mystic eye or a rough, weird hand.

The encounter with Picasso and modernist aesthetics has been observed among several Vietnamese young artists, like Tran Trong Vu, Le Quang Ha, Dang Xuan Hoa, Ha Tri Hieu, in the different periods of their creation. We may say that this is quite natural for the following reason:

Vietnam Artists

"Portrait Of Mr. Ham" by Van Tho

The aesthetic revolution of Western modernist artists at the dawn of the 20th century is precisely the relinquishment of rigid, fastidious academic lessons to revert to instinctive art so natural, simple and richly-intuitive. This "primitivization" of artistic language leads to a starting approach close to folk art and children's art. However, the return to a "primitive" as one likes is truly difficult, especially with rationalist Western artists. Many of them, while coming back to instinctive art in an extreme manner, distorted figures weirdly, extravagantly, as in a number of cases of expressionism. The Vietnamese painters' return to instinctive art is mush effortless, as easy as pie, because they art not under the weight of academic art and are surrounded by a living environment imbued with folksiness. No need to go anywhere, they almost instantly meet modern, up-to-date elements in their traditional art rich in folk characters.

Let's talk about Van Tho's art again. He is complexfree and does not waver before outer influences, tardy as they are. He openly expresses his sympathy and friendly response to Matisse, Picasso and the Western modernist artisrs who were the pioneers in the effort to emancipate art from the imposition of traditional concepts and paved the way for freedom to experiment any ideas or media. Van Tho painted the still-life "Nenuphar Flowers 2002" in Matisse's style with a note dedicated to "Les modernes" and Matisse, thus conveying his sympathetic feeling to them. Furthermore, he solemnly drew Picasso's portrait according to his imagination, as a gesture to show his admiration for this talented champion in painting.

Renovation is a natural need of creative work and artists. Van Tho is now at the meeting point of modernist art influences with their "primitive" tendency and children's art, in which he feels himself rejuvenated with the fresh, generous folk palette which is rich in conventional decorative patterns and expresses the most primitive, affectionate and simplest feelings of humans.

Besides, he himself feels satisfaction in experiencing free creative work and practising art for recreation and relaxation.

Bui Nhu Huong

Art History Research and Art Critic

From the Art Magazine No.72 of Vietnam Arts Association