Coming to America

Hanoi artist Dang Xuan Hoa arrived in the United States in mid- February, 1994, to begin a six-month artist in residence at the Indochina Arts Project (IAP). Mr. Hoa was chosen from a grope of artists whose work was sent to the IAP by the Hanoi Association of Plastic Artists.

The Indochina Arts Project is a non-profit organization established in 1983 to prompt understanding between the people of the United States and Vietnam. Its first major project was the internationally acclaimed exhibition As Seen by Both Sides at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Hanoi, January 1997. The show had already toured fourteen cities in the United States over the past three and a half years. The IAP continues to work on cultural exchanges between the United States and Vietnam, including exhibitions, video projects and artist exchanges.

Hoa feels privileged to be the first artist selected for this program as well as responsibility which has come with this. He expresses concerns that the latest invasion of three piece suits from the United States, although necessary for the economic well-being of his country, will cause an overpowering focus on commercial interests.

Hoa will return to Hanoi in August 1994 to have an exhibition of work completed while in the United States, as well as to share his experiences and thoughts with the other artists of Vietnam. He recently spoke with Nguyen Ba Chung in Boston.

What are the things which stand out in terms of your preconceptions of arts and life in the United States?

Life in Hanoi, at least to me, I like a quiet river, merndering on its own hurried speed. Here, [in the United States], things appear to run at full speed most of the time. There’s always something to do, schedules to keep, and work to be completed. I can send that rhythm in the world of arts which I have seen the energy, the license experiment, and the dedication to whatever artist want to say. American art fully reflects the vastness of an industrial society, its abundance of resources and careful experiment.

How do you see the artist in terms of society in Vietnam and the United States?

In terms of goals it is similar – the love and dedication to some artistic ideals. In terms of the means to realize them, there are substantial differences.
Today, again I am watching Hoa at work. There are scented tea and Chopin’s soul-stirring Noctumes to add flavor to my resting his painting gesture. In these recent art works of his, the emotional flow is more discreetly profound, the structural pattern more liberal, the coloring more diversified and richer in shades I know that recently Hoa has experienced uncertainties and questioned himself a lot. To him, the essential is neither this or that form nor a gleaning of individual bits of tradition (motifs from pagodas and communal houses, details of Buddha statues), but the challenging confrontation with his own problems to create art out of true inspirations from his own

Back from two visits to the United States, Hoa confessed: “To travel far in order to get closer to oneself to see people in order to better understand one, that is a lesson I draw from my two America tours. I find it necessary to reassess what we have so far taken for granted. Not a few Vietnamese artists have experimented with all forms of expression; however, in some of the more non-traditional attempts there seems to be something missing. At home, I did not figure this out. Only in coming to America, witnessing the art environment imbued with social character of this country, I finally realized what was missing: the heat of the actual social current”.

These cogitations seem to have been fermenting in Hoa’s recent work, Precursors of a new ripeness? I hope and am convinced of that.

Duong Tuong
Art Critic

Art Critic by Phan Cam Thuong

Everything around us is imbued with a certain sense of art. The artist has to look, see, understand, and capture it through his own special lens. I do not want to paint what I see; I want to paint what I understand, for I want to capture life not just by itself but also its relationship to the world around it, with my own insight and aesthetics.

“Man’s object is my main obsession in recent works – all created with the above approach. They are things, animals, or people that are all familiar in my life. They can be found everywhere around me and in the community”.

The objects spread over almost the entire canvas, appearing through, not one, but a kind of multi – layered perceptive. The color representation is simple, unadulterated, and almost spatially rough. The works attempt to project an empathic energy, modern but original, expensive of the ancient Vietnamese art in a contemporary language. My understanding of ancient Vietnamese comes from my study of traditional fork sculpture and folk paintings. They are noted for their sense of immediacy, directness, and power, Art, to me, is simplicity both in form and substance. It’s that very simplicity that generates what we hope to be beauty.


A representative of the young painters’ generation of Vietnam in the 1990s after Doi Moi (renovation). Dang Xuan Hoa gets rid of impressionistic influence and reverts to traditional values. He always places himself along extensive social ties but he is fussy about any change in his style one he has not yet found another way to expression of professional quality. Born in 1959 in Nam Dinh Province. Hoa concomitantly enjoy the good tradition of Nam Dinh’s men of letters and years of need. At the first non – subsidized (both materially and spiritually) exhibition attended by 16 artists at Vietnam Fine Arts Museum in 1987, Hoa acquired a worthy personal position. At that time, the master painters such as: Sang, Phai and Lien were very feeble. Just one year later (1988), they all passed away. At the age of thirty “when a man should stand on his own feet” (Confucius) Hoa began to be held in regard even among conservative circles.

The shaping up of the “Gang of Five” – Ha Tri Hieu, Pham Quang Vinh, Hong Viet Dung, Tran Luong and Dang Xuan Hoa – had a definite meaning in those days when painting developed favorable with the gradual self – destruction of subsidized economy. At first, out of friendship rather than the affinity in art tendency, they successively organized group and solo art exhibition in which each painter set up his own face. Painters and art critics like Nguyen Quan, Duong Tuong, Viet Hai and other men of letters paid concerned attention to the maturity of this class of young artists who are all under 30, Hoa shares their common expressionistic – abstractionist orientation combined with traditional humanistic ideas, but works out of his own drawing style whose motifs develop within a solid structure. However, what the artist paint and which style he is making use of are of no consequence Hoa’s artworks themselves contain an innate power of painting. They fascinate us regardless of all artistic prejudices.

Portraits, humans and objects are his tow main topics. He portrays his wife and children, his friend himself truthfully as if they were drawn according to their destiny without any embellishment. The feelings lie within the strokes of his paintbrush rather than in the depiction or contrast of his personages. Each object in drawn more than once from sketches, in meticulously realistic painting or in oils, now after a model, now from memory. The set of his self – portraits, and the portrait of Duong Tuong possibly express his permanent concept of regarding them as a mirror reflecting of man’s viscera and inner felling, and this may be a “character – detecting” mirror too. As for the favorite topic “Man and Objects”, it will probably follow the artist throughout his life. If we paid little attention to the picture are disregarded the repetition of the motifs (a lamp, a candle, a bowlful of fruit, streamers, a Buda’s statue, a cat, a fish, a mouse, a vase or bottle….) through each painting in order to abstraction ally view his art works simply as an action of drawing, we would see that the sophistication of his painting power mingles harmoniously all the time with his affectionate feelings about the world of objects around him her an abandon of genres and the beginning of a deviation from style are perceptibly noticeable. The creative projects seem to merge with the major lines o the two categories. Humanism and Painting, in defiance of the inevitable inheritance character. In terms of single figures as well as regarding the general structure, Hoa equally owns the power of simplification and depending. In any instance, sketches of a few strokes, real portrayal of personages, pictures of a few or a great many figures, sketchy or elaborate pictures of a few or a great many figures, sketchy or elaborate pictures, there always emanates a sensation of perfect ness from Hoa’s artworks. In each painting, it seems that the artist may linger as long as he wishes and he may stop anywhere he loves to Apparently, this project (of forms, shapes and structure) has nothing to do with the language of Cubism. There emerges fiction from this sort of painting, yet it proves to be constantly acceptable as redundant energy will bring about pure pleasure from drawing.

Changes in social life due to the progress of Doi Moi (renewal) and market economy exert no less considerable influence on art the generation of 30 to 40 year – old painters like Dang Xuan Hoa. This event emancipated the spirit of painting, cast off the responsibility of simplistic real art, led artists to international exchanges so that they could live on their paintings and gradually eliminated the opportunists who pursue the selling of their pictures by benefiting from the advantage of art market. To turn towards the country’s tradition while using contemporary language and to reassess the progenitors are the main characteristic of present – day art. The painter has found the common language through a great variety of instantaneous works inspired by the linking vein which included Buddhist sculpture, bas – relief’s in communal houses, Dong Ho village and Hang Trong Street folk paintings and works by senior artists graduated from I’Ecole des Beaux – arts de I’Indochine. The coarseness of laic life, the fondness of drawing the beautiful in decoration and nature, the lack of concern about the local historical events have become a water vein they has been running through Vietnam’s plastic arts history from ancient times up to now. Dang Xuan Hoa occupies a certain position in this current. One cannot assert whether this is a major or minor position but very likely, the position is greater the expectation if the artist further marches on the road of great virtue, improvement and if he paints like a madman.

Phan Cam Thuong
Art Critic

Article of Dang Xuan Hoa