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Twin brothers Thanh - Hai from Hue - Hard working Artists 

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By: Nguyen My Thanh - Ha Noi - Viet Nam

Many of the visitors who arrive to tour the New Space Galleries already feel they know the owners, Thanh and Hai. The brothers, identical twins, share a knack for promotion and thousands of copies of their paintings circulate through Hue City. Famous for their lacquer art - and outrageous performances - the brothers, whose galleries are landmark on Nguyen Tri Phuong Street and Pham Ngu Lao Street, are often on hand to greet guests with their unique brand of hospitality.
Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai were born in 1975 in the white sandy soil of Quang Binh to a family of modest means. In 1992, they enrolled in a three-year college course at Hue Arts University. After finishing the course, they continued with university training there and graduated in 2000. Their two exhibitions in 1996 and 1997 caused a surprise among Hue artists for they bespoke the boldness in lacquer painting, the contrasts of color and wild and naive outlines. In their paintings, one can find the motifs typical of the decorations found in Hue royal palaces. It seems that the motifs are combined perfectly at random as if they are born from the sub-consciousness of the artists. These two exhibitions encouraged them to take confident steps in their career. When painting, the brothers seem to experience a temporary self-distance, yet their ideas and thoughts converge. This is also the mystery of twins.
From 1998 to 2000 Thanh and Hai took part in groups and individual exhibitions in VietNam and abroad. They have exhibits in Thai modern arts Museum in Bangkok and the Faculty of Fine Art Chaing Mai in Thailand, in The United Arab Emirates and Japan. In 2001 Thanh and Hai participated in several lacquer-painting exhibitions in France and Germany. Among the seven entries by Hue artists to the Philip Morris competition, Hanoi-Hue 2001, two entries are by Thanh and Hai. They represent the new style and a new look at life that the brothers seem to absorb through their overseas exhibitions.
Thanh and Hai are interested in experimenting with lacquer materials and developed their own technique. They work 8 and 10 hours a day to produce a large number of paintings to sell to a variety of clients and visitors. Thanh and Hai said, "Painting is working. We paint whatever we like and try not to upset our passionate customers."
It is well known to many in the art community that Thanh and Hai are driven to success and have a talent to attract attention. People still talk about their recent performance, a popular Vietnamese art form expression, they recently did in the nude. They live at a dizzying pace with great charm and grace. While Hai is a teacher in Art College in addition to his daily painting, Thanh manages the two galleries and a new bar, also named New Space, nearby.
Thanh and Hai produce an impressive amount of paintings. They are now planning to open a large exhibition on May 25th this year, with 50 paintings, at the prestigious Ancient Gallery in HaNoi.
The zest for working and creativity of Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai as well as the young generation of Hue artists implicitly bespeaks the new vitality of the ancient capital known as a peaceful land with a leisurely pace of life.

Young Vietnamese Painters : Le Duc Hai and Le Ngoc Thanh - John Irvin ( )

From an article originally written for John's Life in Thailand. Reprinted with permission of the author.
Their faces have many eyes that look out at the viewer. Their mouths are full of teeth, but they are deadpan grins, not smiles. We see children with telescopic ears, women in cone-shaped hats, bodies with heads on sideways, hilltribe villagers ?the subjects in the paintings of Le Duc Hai and Le Ngoc Thanh are common, ordinary, people, but the inner lives ?dreams, emotions and psyches ?of these subjects are anything but ordinary.
"At home, I must paint every day. If I don?, I cannot sleep at night." Thus Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai expressed their relationship with their art. Graduates of Hue College of Art in Vietnam, they spent two months in residence at Chiang Mai University during the past year, living in a spare room in the back of the university art museum and scraping their meager resources together to pay for their trip.
The artwork of the two brothers, paintings on paper and lacquer on wood, give us visual impressions of what they themselves have seen and experienced in their young lives in their province of Quang Binh, Vietnam. In their paintings, we see images of market women selling fish, women without fancy clothes, men crouching under a barbed wire fence, and children waiting to grow up.
Their work is simplified in form and powerful in its impact. Human figures resolve to geometric shapes, such as the triangular cone-shaped hats, and rectangular or circular bodies. Faces may be round, or may be left as unfilled, black spaces. Elements such as shadow and internal lines are left out, so that the figures stand out in almost primitive fashion.
But art comes not only from what we see, but also from what is inside our minds. Some of the artwork of the Le brothers takes on a remarkable imaginative quality, where the real image is augmented with extraordinary symbols to tell the story.
The twin brothers were born on the third of April, 1975, about 26 days before the official end of the decades long war in Vietnam. The war is a big theme in their work. "Women Waiting," by Le Ngoc Thanh, a deceivingly simple acrylic painting on paper, shows two chairs against a red background. Two women are sitting in the chairs, but their figures and faces can hardly be seen. "These women are thinking about their husbands, who went to fight in the war," explained Thanh. "They are waiting for them, but they haven? come home, so I didn? draw their faces."
In the middle, hanging between the two women is a kerosene lantern. This lamp appears in many of their paintings. "Lamps are symbols of waiting," said Thanh. This theme is repeated again and again in their art: women waiting for their husbands, men waiting for a better life, children waiting for their future. In their village, as in their country, people have been waiting for things to change for a long time.
Lanterns also appear in "Sad Men," another work by Thanh, in acrylic on sa paper. This work features a long row of paintings entwined by barbed wire, which is painted onto the wall of the room in the museum. Each square of sa paper is a different color, and shows a male figure in near fetal posture, circular arms wrapping around heads, torsos and knees. In front of the display is a lantern on a small stool, and in some of the paintings the men are holding lanterns.
The plight of children also concerns the young artists very much. "Children Dreaming," by Thanh, is a series of nine paintings on sa paper which were hung on a wall in three rows. "Children have a hard life in my country, they must work a lot and they don't have time for play or for pleasure. But when they dream, that? the only time they can get away, and imagine a different life for themselves."
The identification with country is strong in the two brothers. "Look to My Country," by Le Duc Hai, acrylic on sa paper, was created to show the feelings of the artist being abroad. "My body is here, but my mind and my heart think about my country," he explained. The paper is a deep red, and the other colors are equally intense. Two faces look out across the painting, each face with four eyes. The hair of the two heads is stylized, long and flowing, like that of the two brothers. Beyond the faces lie an array of symbols, such as dots, hearts, and lines.
The extra eyes have special meaning. "We look at history, we look into the future, we need eyes for seeing many things," said Hai. Part of good art is seeing, and the brothers realize the importance of this. The multiple eyes appear in several other paintings, indicating a willingness to imagine, dream, and think about not only what is real, but what is possible in the future.
In addition to their acrylic paintings on oil paper or sa paper, the brothers have done a great many lacquer paintings. They brought several of these paintings with them to Thailand, and they described the process of making these paintings to me.
When the brothers make a lacquer painting, they first cover a piece of wood with a canvas, and apply about ten coatings of oil. After this preparation, they must wait about six months before using each one. Then they use lacquer paints and paint their picture. Afterwards, the painting must be dried, which may take a long time in the hot climate of southeast Asia.
Sometimes, they add special effects to the painting by using special silver paper under the background. This will make the painting reflect more color, and seem metallic when it is finished. Another technique is to add crushed eggshells to the paint, so that broad areas of color take on a mottled effect. This technique can be seen in a many of the paintings.
After the lacquer painting dries, it must be sanded. Once it is finished, it will have strong and true colors, and will also be much less vulnerable to elements like water, and accidents or breakage. The lacquer paintings also don? need to be framed, as they are self-contained and complete by themselves.
Geometric shapes can augment the design of a composition. In "Women Selling Fish," by Thanh, the artist joins two objects ?the women? conical shaped hats ?together to create a new shape, and also to create powerful lines which dominate the layout of the composition. The top line of their hats becomes a horizontal line that runs across the painting, and the inside line where their hats come together makes a vertical line which is extended from the top to the bottom of the painting. With these powerful lines, the whole composition is bisected and divided into quadrants. Having done this, the artist places a fish in each of the top two quadrants, facing outward from the center, while the women? faces look away from the center in the bottom two quadrants. In this way, everything in the painting seems to emanate outward from an origin point where the two lines intersect.
The fish reappears in many of the lacquer paintings, being used both as a symbol for food, sustenance, and as a source of income for the fish sellers. Women, also, seem to dominate these paintings, being the ones engaged in the activity which feeds both them and the people of their communities.
Color in these paintings is clear, warm, and applied in generous brush strokes. Strokes may be visible, with a second shade seeping through from the background, or with another tone (often a metallic gold or copper) brushed lightly on the top. Crushed eggshell may help mottle an area of coloration, giving it a lighter shade. Internal lines and crosshatching adds texture to an object, and sometimes these areas are filled with contrasting colors to give a checkerboard effect. Geometric shapes can be found in both the major outlines, such as the triangular hats and round faces, and in the less noticeable areas, such as the crosshatching of the fish. Style, line, color, composition, and subject all add to these paintings, and the more one looks at them, the more there is to see.
Le Duc Hai and Le Ngoc Thanh are dedicated and talented artists. They live for their art, every day, choosing to express themes in life around them rather than in distant or classical subjects. Their enthusiasm is strong, their lives are young, and their careers are just beginning. I look forward to seeing their artwork develop for a long time into the future.

© Copyright 1999, John Irvin 


Sunrise at Rotunda & Garden Galleries  ( )

The paintings of Vietnamese twin brothers Le Duc Hai and Le Ngoc Thanh will be on display at the Rotunda and Garden Galleries at the Neilson Hays Library in Bangkok from Friday 6 March. Their exhibition of video and lacquer performance arts is entitled ‘Sunrise’.
The brothers’ large scale paintings are recognised as a fusion of East and West. The legacy of French impressionists, the rich Vietnamese cultural traditions and spiritual symbolism are readily apparent in their paintings. Both artists are known for their use of explosive colours to create impressive graphic abstractions, each in his own distinctive individual style.
The twins were born in Quang Binh in 1975 and enrolled in a three-year college course at Hue Arts University in 1992. Their two exhibitions in 1996 and 1997 caused a stir among Hue artists with their contrasts of colour and wild outlines. In their paintings, viewers can find the motifs typical of the decorations found in the royal palaces at Hue City; a venue rich in Vietnamese heritage and culture that was badly damaged during the Tet offensive in 1968.
Besides painting, Le Duc Hai is teaching in Art College and Thanh manages two galleries in Vietnam. The brothers have exhibited in the USA, Holland, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Laos and the United Arab Emirates as well as their home country.
The opening reception will take place on Friday 6 March from 7 to 9pm (1900 to 2100 hours), and the exhibition will run from 5th to 29th March.
The Rotunda and Garden Gallery & Café are open on Tuesdays to Sundays from 09.30 to 1700 (9.30am to 5pm)
Further information from Vivian Ploem at  (02-233 1731)
The Neilson Hays Library is at 195 Surawong Road, Bangkok 10500


Art of Symbols  ( )

Le Duc Hai and Le Ngoc Thanh are two young artists who are well known in Vietnam. They are twin brothers who work together merging their ideas in visual language, paintings and installations. They were born at the end of the long American war in Vietnam, into an era of difficult recovery. Through their youth they experienced both poverty on one hand and enormous technical progress on the other hand. Today their language is derived from: computers, Internet, and fashion - the same language of the young generation in the west. Our Vietnamese artists have a curious relationship with contemporary art in the west.
The young artists translate their own forms of art into modern idioms based on contemporary movements in art, for example conceptual-art. They are both performers and have interesting works of performance-Art and installations. Their paintings show not only an appreciation of Vietnamese art and of traditional technique, but also they have an essential ingredient - the feel of popular and common symbols. They use lacquer on wood to cover large panels in old Vietnamese tradition in order to produce contemporary forms. Their work is simple in form and powerful in its impact. Human figures and objects dissolve into geometric shapes, such as the triangular cone hat.
Simple forms and ordinary symbols (fish, head, bird, cloud, and lamps) were often used in the West, as elements of design. Here in the paintings they are used as symbols on a card game chart, or as a dictionary of a personal and secret language. Symbols of ordinary life are used as hidden dreams and emotions. Their symbols are driven out of popular folk art and are translated into an aesthetic of modern icons. Nevertheless, they stand visually as Christian Icons – the highest level of art. They are not really religious symbols, but they look like religious symbols. Their ordinary symbols are presented as jewelry in gold; each is presenting a prominent idea or a desirable dream in a precious frame. This is their manifestation. "We present our Vietnamese ordinary life and we are proud of it". Simple objects of ordinary life and of poverty are covering great pain of suffering during the war. Their objects represent dreams of better life in the future. A "lantern lamp" is the symbol for waiting. Women are waiting for their husbands and children for their fathers who went to fight. Symbols in Art-history were based on religion, Mythology or Nature.
Our artists, Thanh and Hai use in their art a personal language minimized to enigmas. A bicycle appears as prominent icon, but to some extent is a "ready-made".
I would say that their works of art refer to Magritte, the modern artist. They built a whole world of icons similar to the way that the great surrealist artist did. He built a private visual dictionary (a pipe, a chair, and a hat), enigmas and codes.
Through the centuries Vietnamese artists developed a visual language which has been severe and monochromatic. Lacquer on wood has been used in Vietnamese art for 2000 years. Today many of the Vietnamese artists work in the same old technique using very few colors, black, brown, yellow and white, painting the traditional subjects. In countries that have suffered economically, as a consequence of a long war, artists created forms of art which often depicted the somber surroundings.
Our artists express their art in a colorful, dramatic language; however, they still use the traditional lacquer technique. Their icons are painted in rich colors as red vermilion, gold and silver. Sometimes, they add special effects to the painting by using silver and gold leaves as a background. This will make the painting reflect more color, and the finished product would appear metallic. Another technique is to add crushed eggshells to the paint, so that broad areas of color take on a mottled effect. This technique can be seen in a many of their paintings.
"At home, I must paint every day. If I don't, I can't sleep at night." Thus both Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai expressed their passion for their art.


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