11 Year Love Affair with Wood-Engraving Paintings

After spending 11 years creating traditional wood-engraving paintings, painter Le Phuong Dong is constantly amazing people with his works depicting famous landscapes in Viet Nam.

Joining the university at 31

Painter Le Phuong Dong

Born in Ha Noi, Le Phuong Dong was deeply affected by folk art he saw along Dong Ho and Hang Trong streets where paintings were sold. At a young age, he was attracted by water puppet performances, children’s folk games such as danh dao (“chucking coins”) and danh khang (“game of sticks”), and clay carvings of animals. They created in him a love of folk and traditional art that would last a life time.

Dong was good at literature, but he chose instead to study mechanics in Czechoslovakia after graduation. Returning to Viet Nam, he worked for a while before realizing he belonged to the art world.

He thus enrolled in the Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) University of Fine Art at the age of 31. His name got some attention thanks to his participation in a HCMC exhibition sponsored by the Sweden fund for the promotion of culture, and being invited by UNESCO to an exhibition and conference of fine art in Germany’s Kassel City.
Le Phuong Dong’s most influential teacher was artist Nguyen Dang Dung – the last generation of the Nguyen Dangs famous for wood engraving paintings in Dong Ho village. Mr. Nguyen Dang Dung taught Dong all the essentials like mixing the colors, sharpening the knives, and choosing the right wood for the cutting boards.
Images of village life in every cut

A wood-engraving painting of Hue ancient capital of Le Phuong Dong

Le Phuong Dong always carries a pencil and a piece of paper so that he can quickly sketch any interesting scenes he comes across.

On a trip to Ben Tre, he saw a boat floating on a large river. On the boat a woman was splashing her feet in the water while her husband played guitar and sang “Vong Co”, traditional Southern Vietnamese music. That image reminded him of a famous love story between one Pham Lai and Tay Thi and he was then inspired to produce a series of four paintings representing four moments of time: morning, afternoon, evening and night.

Sometimes, the painter went to a village deep in the forest of Lam Dong province where he lived and drew for months at a time.

The subject matter of Le Phuong Dongs paintings are diverse: famous landscapes, the daily lives of Vietnamese people, festivals, a flood in the southern floating market, young women from a Thai ethnic group going to the market in the morning at Lai Chau, the quiet ancient capital at Hue, to name a few.

The painting “Chieu mien Tay” (an afternoon in the south) fascinates viewers with its small pieces of wood depicting the growing waters of an oncoming flood. It is a good example of the high level of patience and attention to detail that are clearly evident in his work.

Le Phuong Dong’s art factory, located on No Trang Long Street in Binh Thanh district, is relatively small but there are a lot of wood-engraving paintings to be found there.

He is a dedicated artist, usually working until midnight and he is always seeking new ideas and challenges.

He confessed that there have been many times that he wanted to shift to another job which could offer him a better life, but every time he stands in front of his engraving boards his worries fade away and that peaceful feeling comes to him again.

After his first exhibition at the end of November in Ho Chi Minh City, artist Le Phuong Dong said he plans to experiment with new colors and materials like adding a kind of raw cloth to enhance the surface texture of his paintings. Another adventure has just begun…..

Source TT – Translated by Khuong An

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