Painter and artisan Nguyen Tan Phat has brought Vietnamese folklore into works of art thanks to his passion for lacquer.
Born and raised in Son Tay township in the western gateway of Hanoi, 38-year-old Nguyen Tan Phat has made hundreds of special lacquered products, showing not only the beauty of Vietnam’s art and culture but also their functionalities in daily life.
Using the art of craft art to promote the homeland
Only about two kilometers from Duong Lam ancient village - the most well-known tourist site of Son Tay, Phat’s house is full of vitality with lacquer art.
The first impression is the giant ants climbing the tree in the yard. The images of these lacquered ants clinging to the mossy walls of Duong Lam ancient village were posted on his Facebook page, surprising many people for the exceptional imagination of the artist.
Inside, the house is covered by hundreds of lacquered buffaloes of all sizes and shapes. The idea of the “1010 Lacquered Buffalo Statues” project came from a lacquered buffalo artwork that earned Phat the first prize in the lacquer category in the Hanoi handicraft design competition 2020. From October 2020 to date, Phat has created a herd of buffaloes with unique shapes by his skillful lacquer technique, which is currently being displayed at Duong Lam ancient village.
His buffaloes are made with the familiar images of the Northern countryside and Vietnamese cultures like the typical gate of the temples and village communal houses, details of bronze drums, or especially dragons which buffaloes turn into, to show the desire for a prosperous life.
Sharing about the use of the traditional lacquer material in his products, Phat told The Hanoi Times: “Since I was a child, I have followed my grandfather to the temples and pagodas to paint and restore ancient works, so my love for Vietnamese culture was nurtured. Such love grew stronger when I studied at the University of Fine Arts for. I want to promote the cultural beauties of each region and I always use traditional crafts to promote the land where I was born and grew up.”
Applying lacquer in life
Applying lacquer in both artworks and ordinary objects, Phat believes that art should be practical for people not only to enjoy but also to use it.
Therefore, besides artistic paintings and statues, his company, Dola, which is located in Son Tay, also specializes in lacquered wooden household items, jewelry, and souvenirs. Wood is selected as the main material because the traditional lacquer technique has a good response on it and it is a friendly material.
His unique product lines are favored by tourists and available not only at travel agents and souvenir shops in tourist areas across the country but also on e-commerce sites. He regularly received orders from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, USA, among others.
One of the factors of Phat’s successes is that his works follow the flow of contemporary art. “From the old days, artworks were supposed to be looked at, not to be used. However, I always put applicability into my work. The products must be functional as well. I’m lucky to be active in the role of both a painter and an artisan. The most important thing is to be my own boss and find out the development direction,” he told The Hanoi Times.
Since 2010, he has continuously received prestigious awards from Hanoi and many other localities, such as the first prize in the Hanoi handicraft design competitions in 2014 and 2019. He has contributed to passing down the profession to the next generation and inspiring the young artists in his homeland as well as creating jobs for dozens of local people. In 2017, at the age of 34, he was honored as a typical “Hanoi Artist” by the Hanoi People's Committee.
A year later, in 2018, he opened a class of making craft products with lacquer with support from the city’s authorities. After the course, his students have been able to produce nice lacquer products and several of them stay to work with him.
“I have always been concerned about how to not only develop my profession and business but also support artisans in craft villages to make beautiful and exceptional products to win in the world souvenir market,” he said.
Over 20 years pursuing lacquer art, Phat remains as passionate as the first day with his ambition of enriching the country’s handicrafts still intact. He plans to combine lacquer arts with puppetry to make lacquered puppets and open an exhibition named “Dreaming Buffalo” in his homeland of Son Tay. The exhibition will introduce the whole collection of 1,010 buffalo figurines, with the aim of paying tribute to the 1,010-year-old capital and to the lacquer craft that he has performed for more than 20 years now.
A lacquer painting by renowned Vietnamese painter Pham Hau was sold for EUR833,000, equivalent to over US$1 million, during an auction held by French auction house Aguttes.