(“The world” – Tran Tuan’s exhibition at Vietnam Fine Arts Museum on December the 24th 2011)
Sea-beaches turning into mulberry fields and valleys turning into hills, both these two phrases allude to drastic changes of Nature and the vissicitudes of human life, and the former also implies wretchedness and desolation. A human life is only an infinitesimal limited atom in the infinity of time, yet could contain in itself “sea-beach into mulberry field” changes, even “seas of woes”. Man is nothing more than an insignificant incidental grain of dust in the cosmos. Yet, he always looks up at the heaven, addressing to it such questions without answer as put by Gauguin: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
Nhân Gian (The Human World) – this solo exhibition of Trần Tuấn reveals his obsessive ambition of “great narrative”. The human world is cramped full with no vista except for a pitch-dark abysmal sea crevice, a nebula of cosmic dust, an atomic mushroom and a stellar flash. Clustered side by side are magnified human faces like huge statues you could only snap or look up to from below. The series begins with a groping hand blindly pointing to nobody knows where, and ends up with a child’s smiling face. In between is an endless close sucession of disbeliefs, sufferings, fears, unjustices… confronted with faces of pontiffs, philosophers, celebrities, millionnaires, devils and the author himself. These subjects are aching for the answers to the eternal questions, (A pity that the series cannot be displayed in full). Scrambling with them are this world’s living creatures, those mortals, merely represented by children’s angelic, innocent, chaste visages, which, who knows?, might thereby reflect veraciously the realities of this world. A human life, after all, amounts to no more than that. The world is changing and at the same time remains unchanged. Is this the “ages-old sorrow” grossly magnified or a pathetic scream in the hope to awaken people’s minds?
Trần Tuấn is an aesthetic-minded artist infatuated with the beauty of “little narrative” – children, villages and hamlets, lotus ponds, flower beds, obsessive belles… This world of his is often romanticized. He jealously cherishes every brush stroke, every patch of colour, every detail on the oil painting surface. For more than twenty years now, his art has steadiky evolved in unremitting creation. This time, his works may strike somebody as quite different both in leitmotiv and style, at least superficially. But this change does not surprise those who have known the artist wfor a long time. In 1981, with his painting Where to Go? he expressed his indignant sympathy for the fate of Cambodian women under the PolPot genocidal regime. In 1984, he submitted to the First National Exhibition of Young Artists the triptych Vissicitudes of Life inspired by the ups and downs in politics, wars, violence, despotism… And now, the entangled roots of painful philosophic-aesthetic meditations so far hidden under the light friendly green foliage, bluntly show their shocking enormous, rough, oppressive deformities to the viewers, leaving them with no opportunity to elude the soul-racking questions. Of course, under the inescapable influence of comtemporary aesthetics!
NGUYỄN QUÂN - Art critic.
Translated by DƯƠNG TƯỜNG