In Hanoi, during the 1920s, innovation of Vietnamese silk painting technique took place, thanks to the efforts of Victor Tardieu, the principal of the first Ecole des Beaux-Arts de ‘Indochine’ in Vietnam, together with one of his first students, painter Nguyen Phan Chanh. Their collaborations paved the way for this traditional art form to be of major inspiration to modern painters of the day.
Vietnamese traditional silk painting technique differed from that of China or Japan for the colors would gradually emerge after applying hundreds of dyeing strokes on wet silk, as opposed to dry. Le Hoang Bich Phuong (b. 1984, Ho Chi Minh City) is one of the few visual artists to continue this tradition, though with her own innovative style, encouraging the watercolors to be more transparent, while also expanding the range of topics conventionally depicted in this medium. Where once landscapes and conventional figures abound, Bich Phuong weaves larger abstractions of myth and imagination into her work.
‘Paeonia Dream’, Le Hoang Bich Phuong’s second solo exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City, is inspired by the peony, the elegant flower of spring, a royal symbol of classic East Asia determining richness and honor. In Bich Phuong’s two-layered paintings, light shines through ethereal surfaces of silk depicting the flower, within carefully constructed wooden frames. This peony is loomed in the portrait of a demure yet mysterious doe-alike figure and her human feet. The half-deer half-human creature resembles Artemis – the Goddess of Hunting (in some versions refered as ‘Diana’), who is celebrated as a hero, who protects with chastity and is often depicted as a deer. These animals were sacred to Artemis, indeed in one version of the myth she turns herself into a deer in order to let the violent twin sons of Poseidon – the God of the Sea – kill themselves. The portrait’s quietness recalls Artemis’ tragic loss of her lover Orion – her brother Apollo dared her hunting skills that she could not shoot that far – but she did and thus killed her target and her lover. The scratch in Artemis’ heart is also revealed abstractly in Bich Phuong’s silk installations.