As the TET holiday draws to a close, dispersal takes its place as the theme of our land. Families recently united return to their disparate lives.
But immersion into the ancestral home leaves us with questions to contemplate. Who are we? What do we live for? Where are we going? These are the musings that the meditative artist Tran Hoang Son addresses in “Family Tree,” his new exhibition of portraits at Art Vietnam Gallery.
A thoughtful, introspective man with a wisdom well beyond his thirty nine years, Son is well known for his highly crafted lacquer works reflecting his belief in causality, a life of atonement and reckoning, a dedication to striving for knowledge and enlightenment. This new body of work is a departure by way of medium, for it is comprised of finely detailed ink and natural color drawings on handmade Do paper, which is mounted on canvas. Though the medium is different, the mode of introspection remains: It is not less than Son’s signature. Son’s newest works are grouped into three chapters, as Son calls them: The first is the family tree; the second is the “+ chapter,” comprised of the family of friends that one adopts as one proceeds through life, and the third chapter concerns the return to the village, to the place of origin and the family from which one once ventured.
In the family tree chapter, Son’s endeavor to depict life as an ancestral inheritance translates variously. A mother is portrayed surrounded by a halo of roses, a father is shown graced with the strength and dignity his profession confers upon him, a son spreads his arms as if to embrace the world. Each member of the family exudes the assurance and stability of a person who knows his or her place in life and moves through it with a solid dignity. While not without its complications, this is a world of certainties, easily grasped.
The second chapter, by contrast, depicts a world of complexity and contradiction. These portraits are of Son’s friends: his fellow artist Le Quoc Viet, his teacher Phan Cam Thuong, the confidants with whom he shares his joys and his sorrows. These people are the “+” element in his family. “When you put a ‘+’ in your family life, your own private ‘+’ makes your life unstable, puts more risk in your life,” Son says. “When you have a ‘+’ you will also have a ‘–.’ It is easy for this bond to be broken.” The rather transient and unstable nature of the “+” segment of life is what leads one to yearn to return to the place of origin, to a life of stability and peace.
Hence the final chapter in this body of work, depicting people living in their village, marks the culmination of a life journey. The ancestral family has been established and then broken, but only to be established again. The theme is life’s continuity. To re-establish, one must go back to one’s ancestors, to one’s village, to the origin of the family tree. By this route one’s existence is confirmed. It is in this return to the source, Tran Hoang Son tells us with elegance, that peace and harmony resides.
Art Vietnam Gallery