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Established artist goes outside his comfort zone to draw women

Artist Pham Huy Thong's open studio last month displayed paintings he made in 2019. The event drew many visitors to come viewing his new work.

Thong has had solo and group exhibitions in Vietnam and other countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and the US.

Pham Huy Thong showcases paintings about hope in town
Pham Huy Thong’s paintings

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Pham Huy Thong


Nguyen Binh spoke to him about the open studio and his career.

Could you tell us about your open studio?

Open studios are often organised by western European artists to invite colleagues and the public to visit their workplaces. It is different from an exhibition.

An exhibition, though it may also take place in a studio, is a selective display of artists' works based on a specific theme or a specific artistic story.

An open studio is an opportunity for artists to show their workspace with finished work and unfinished work.

Besides a small studio near the University of Industrial Fine Arts, I have another space to store and display paintings and do post-composition such as taking photos of the paintings, editing paintings and others.

This is located on Xa Dan Street and I call it THONGartspace.

What do you use THONGartspace for?

My main job is drawing not organising events or operating art funds. My open studio was sudden and unprofessional. When Tet (Lunar New Year) festival was coming I wanted to show off my many medium and small-size paintings which I made in 2019.

But these paintings and sketches do not follow a common subject, so it is difficult to combine them into an exhibition.

By the time it was possible to register a specific time to display the paintings many of them might go to collectors. Normally, small paintings are always sold quickly.

I decided to open my studio and called it HELLO 2020. I just announced it on my Facebook and called to invite some of my colleagues. In one week, more visitors came than I expected. This made me feel very excited.

I do not have a big plan for THONGartspace. At present, it is my place to work and to show my paintings and my collected paintings. It is also a place to gather friends and host international artists.

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Could you introduce some your paintings on display?

In 2019, I made a few large-size works on the same subject of the previous paintings about the real estate market, the transformation of culture and social structures around the 'movements' of the real estate market.

But the most remarkable activity in the past year is that I have boldly practised drawing naked women.

Everyone knows that my previous large-size works are often missing women.

Since I was a student, I have not been good at portraying the image of beautiful women, so I have avoided female subjects when drawing sketches.

But evading weaknesses forever is not good, especially as my works are often about social issues. Females account for 50 per cent of society.

At the beginning of last year, I was determined to solve my problem. I found and practised drawing a nude model at a club. I posted my nude paintings on Facebook and models began to contact me.

It is an advantage to have the models in my studio. I can ask them to pose in accordance with my composition. I am satisfied with my progress.

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A portrait of a young woman by Pham Huy Thong. Photo courtesy of the artist


Do you have any thoughts on the issue of fake paintings? What can artists do to protect their works?

I am very concerned about not only fake paintings but also copyright and intellectual property. I am working with a lawyer to create a legal package to help artists better protect their work.
Personally, when a painting is completed I do a lot of work such as taking photos for archiving and posting on social networks, recording information on painting materials and putting biochemical fingerprints into my work.

These are spontaneous measures but they are all I can do to protect myself.

Many people wonder why I put the watermark www.phamhuythong.net between photos of my works when posting on social networks.

I am forced to do that because there are many violations of the copyright of print artwork in commercial products without asking the artists for permission.

If someone is interested in my paintings they will come to see them at THONGartspace or the two galleries representing me in HCM City, namely Ben Thanh Art and Craig Thomas Gallery.

What materials do you draw on?

People say every artist is a child who never grows up. So I like to play with many different materials. I can use watercolours, acrylic, gouaches and lacquers. All of them are not bad.

But currently, I always choose to oil-on-canvas for important paintings. This material is popular and is capable of deepening the details and has a broad spectrum of colours.

Oil-on-canvas paintings are durable. Another important reason is that my customers are more familiar with this material.

What do you think about the artist's contribution to community and social development?

Many artists want to separate art and life. I am not in this direction. I see an artist first as a person living in society and as a part of society.

So if he/she wants his/her works to be separate from the life, the works themselves will be not truthful and profound.

I think every artist must be a witness of time so they can his job well recording the time under their eyes and artistic point of view.

There are a number of other artists who are action-driven. They want to have an impact on the community through art projects related to the environment, socio-culture or even politics.

I don't think I have so many possibilities. I just try as I mentioned above to be an art witness who is conscious and eager to work hard.

If the artist himself does their job well in the studio the public will come to the works and they will know about the artist's point of view through the works. VNS

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