A Discovery of Asia and the Pacific
by Peggy Steinle
Artist's streets without people, windows without faces - a metaphor for the protracted agony of Vietnam graphs into mosaic-like compositions, which he then outlines with India ink and overlays with lacquer.
Duc's collages, in their total denial of humanity, reflect his country's tragedy. He stifles every breath, shattering any remaining trace of life into multi- faceted, arid crystals. Even his human figures renounce any resemblance to living flesh. They are disjointed, almost disembodied images, striving for release from their calcified existence. Their freedom of movement is limited to the constricted space the artist allows them.
Ho Thanh Duc's favorite raw materials are photographs of the moon taken by the Apollo astronauts. The moon's craters recall the crumbling, bullet-pocked walls of Vietnamese villages where he wandered as a child. And the silent lunar desert embodies his own petrified universe, in which only inorganic forms may survive.
"In art, melancholy endures longer than joy," declares Ho Thanh Duc, a frail man whose broad mouth and owlish glasses dwarf his small, angular face. The melancholy that permeates his collages has been his earliest memory and his constant companion in life.
He was born in Quang Nam Province, an area devastated by the Vietnam war. In a country where familial ties are the basic social unit, he had no parental guidance. His father was killed by the Japanese in World War II and his mother disappeared when he was a small child. Since he had no other kin, a succession of neighboring families cared for him.
Out of his loneliness grew a pervasive sorrow and a spontaneous urge to paint. From 1960 to 1962 he studied classical painting at the Fine Arts Academies of Hue and Saigon, where modern art is still not taught. Only after graduation did Duc see reproductions of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art. The collages of the French modernist, Georges Braque, with their subtle color variations, appealed to him; besides, he could easily obtain the materials for collage.