The Manila Times Vol.XXXi No. 248 Manila, Philippines (09/05/89) By Ike Arevalo
One cannot live on ideology alone. Nor on bread. For painters Ho Thanh Duc, 49, and wife Be Ky, 51, Vietnam is where dogma and dough had become as unpalatable as its artistic atmosphere. Boxed and trapped, the well-known artist couple decided to call it quits. Their first attempt as part of the boat people ended ignominiously in jail. At one point, Be Ky, who was released earlier, was seen buying cow tendons at a marketplace reportedly for Duc "because they last longer."
After Duc's release and after losing almost everything - except their talent - the pair and three of their four children finally made their way to the Refugee Processing Center in Bataan. The ordeal has left them one child short, a silk painter, who decided to stay because "of love." But the journey has also brought them back into the art circles again, a field both artists had successfully trod in the past - Paris and Japan for Be Ky; Monaco and London for Duc.
Today, the celebrity pair has emerged from the experience, no less philosophical and intuitive as before and certainly richer in experience, if their canvasses are to be seen as mirrors of an exile's life. Duc, in conversations with his newfound acquaintances, prefers the experience to be left in his works. Said he: "They will speak for themselves." Wife Be Ky, in a more expansive mood, said: "We traded our villa for a valise."
This valise of old and new works repose today at the Hiraya Gallery along United Nations Avenue in Manila where 37 of their works are up for grabs in prices that range from P3,400 for a Be Ky caricature to US $1,916 for the lacquered "Young Lady" and "Lotus" by Duc. The more expensive items are usually lacquered or flecked with gold dust. "The former," said gallery owner Desiree Dee, "cannot be duplicated here because the natural tree resin (for the lacquer) is not available locally."
President Aquino of Philippines receives a painting from BeKy
The exhibit is arranged by numbered artworks, beginning with Duc's famous paper- strip collages of Christs, Madonnas, and genre items on the left side. As the eye adjusts slowly, the ordered jumble begins to spark like soldered iron, melting into a figurative Lao Tze, a smiling Buddha, then fastens onto Be Ky stylized Indo-Chinese ladies, luminescent in gold and lacquer and catches the sunlight in carefree, mundane boys at play, beggars, old lovers, Pathos ends in caricature. Dark into light.
In Duc, one empathizes with his carabao flock, piteous and mowing as though leaving Vietnam. His various Christs wear tired, long faces: one imagines a tear in the vivid splash by the cheek. Said Dee: "Malungkot. You can sense the looniness even though he uses lots of colors." Old canvasses by Duc at the backroom would show the opposite: the lively impressionistic sunflowers, the meditative charm of a young girl. These days, it's the pathos that creep out beneath the rainbows.
As Duc is more often than not wrenching, wife Be Ky is cheerfully radiant. Her marble-egg caricature (egg shells crushed, mounted, sanded and painted out) have the look of delicate marblelized walls with graceful lines splashed in ingenue charm. In her lacquered numbers, the sumptuous oriental exotica comes to mind as the gold ("at least 9 grams in one item") glows in resin.
But also, like Duc, she wears a big chip. The daughter in Vietnam, is the pain. "My world is the world of children," she explains. "But the children I've known and cherished in my generation are now gone. I feel lost. If I didn't leave on time, I could have gone crazy."
Be Ky & Ho Thanh Duc
A valise of talent
Mother and child