HO THANH DUC by Eric Scigliano Washington Post, Seattle Weekly January 1997



The defining feature of Vietnamese painting, in stereotype and very often in fact, is graceful delicacy: sinuous lines, exquisite female forms, misty pastoral landscape- an art of pastel and ink-brush. These traits reach fulfillment in the work of Be Ky, who look back from Southern California to traditional village life with a recollection undimmed by years and miles. Her husband, Ho Thanh Duc, can sling an elegant brushstroke with the best of them, as in his traditional lacquer portraits of Buddhist holy men. But graceful delicacy has little to do with his artistic purposes; rather, he attacks the canvas with a prodigious richness of emotion, texture, color, and - literally and figuratively - material.

Much of the effect derives from a distinctive technical synthesis: Duc's blending of traditional Vietnamese lacquer technique with Western collage (using magazines). This began as an accommodation to poverty during the war years of the 1960s, when the young Duc (who was born in 1940) was struggling to his mark in Saigon. Paints was expensive; magazines, which made their way out from the American PX stores, were readily available. Duc had admired the way Georges Braque incorporated newspaper and other collaged scraps in cubist explorations. But he put collage to very different use than Braque of the pop artists of the 1960s. Rather than borrowing printed imagines or typography intact, he "paints" with photographic scraps, chopped and recombined beyond or almost beyond recognition, glazed and layered with paint till the boundaries between the materials shimmer and vanish. And so carved Baroque curliques from on photo become a Buddha's locks; orange poppies highlight a lover's tresses; rough bark becomes the weary neck of a suffering Jesus.

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