FOLK WAY - FOLK ART and Artist Be Ky (Written by Huynh Huy Uy in Vietnamese) (Translated by James Baumgard & Thai Vinh Khiem)



In the Saigon art scene of the sixties there was an outstanding presence we cannot fail to mention: Be Ky. Born in 1938 in Hai Duong, North Vietnam, she received no formal training at any of the handicraft or fine art schools. Nevertheless, she became an artist out of sheer love for painting. The more established painters of the day like Tran Dac, Tran Van Tho, Van Den would occasionally and affectionately take her under their tutelage and offer her guidance. Prior to 1960, Be Ky stood out among her peers because of her somewhat peculiar lifestyle. This slender, young lady was frequently seen wandering the streets of the capital sketching ordinary scenes of daily life of the people. In time, she gained increasing renown for her unique and distinctive works. In 1971 - when she was in her 30's - she could already claim to her credit sixteen (16) exhibitions, all of them successful. Her paintings were eagerly sought for the simple, unaffected and adorable world they depict. Be Ky inaugurated her first "one-man" show at the Alliance Francaise on Dec 12, 1957 under the sponsorship of Mr. Rene de Berval, the expert art commentator for the French newspaper "Journal d'Extreme Orient" and Magazine "France d'Asie" in Saigon. Many European collectors show a keen interest in her paintings in part for their "exotic flavors" but mainly for their artistic value. Her work is represented in the collection of the Museum of Asia and the Pacific in Poland.

By the tender age of six or seven, Be Ky was already showing a remarkable aptitude for painting. She never failed to take advantage of drawing on anything within reach. By the time she entered her teens she could effortlessly paint birds, egrets, other animals or even a child herding water buffalo back along the bamboo hedges at sunset. Be Ky became an astute observer in order to paint. She trained herself with a passion and so it was no wonder that after only a few years she turned herself into an accomplished cartoonist. In her works one can usually find depictions of everyday life activities: a cheerful smile; a peaceful, common way of life: a female street vendor, a fruit merchant, a male "pho" vendor pushing his cart against the chilly wind of a winter afternoon. Or the picture of an elderly man leaning on his cane while crossing the street; a driver exerting himself on his cyclo; a group of children, kicking the shuttlecocks shooting marbles or enjoying a game of hopscotch on the sidewalk.

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Walking with grand father

On her days off Be Ky would venture into the countryside. It is the time for her to observe closely and draw sketch after sketch of cows, water buffalo grazing in the fields... Back in her studio she will one day transform them into masterpieces. Her keen eye and sharp mind will pick out the relevant lines. Those are the very skills required of a gifted painter. The more developed they are, the more accomplished the artist. Among the works of this extremely prolific artist - be it in chinese ink, coloration on silk, lacquers, and inevitably the countless reproductions one can conservatively select many extraordinary paintings: Dan Nguyet (Vietnamese two-chord Guitar), Me Con (Mother and Child), Dan Doc Huyen (Monochord), Dan Co (Vietnamese two-chord Fiddle), Ba Chau (Grand-Mother and Child)... In the late 80's Be Ky resettled in the United States and now lives with her husband, Ho Thanh Duc - also an artist, and her family in Westminster, California, USA. She continues to pursue her art and frequently exhibits her works jointly with other well-known painters in the Vietnamese community. These shows were held in the California cities of Garden Grove, Westminster, San Diego, Irvine, Los Angeles as well as in the states of Virginia, Florida, and Maryland.

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Living with art everyday

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A valise of talent from Vietnam

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Children at play

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Two sisters