Le Ba Dang
Art Foundation




May 9, 2018 Posted by Write about Le Ba Dang

Nguyen Dac Xuan


Artist Le Ba Dang (born 1921 in Bich La Dong, Trieu Phong, Quang Tri) has been highly ranked in the list of contemporary Vietnamese artists in Europe. Le Ba Dang’s art does not belong to any existing schools; the spirit of his art is attached to the country and people of Vietnam. Popular among the Westerners, he has been well-known for selling paintings in the past few decades until now. His all-time concerns lie in finding out what makes Vietnamese art special so that it can attract the attention from people all over the world.

As always, I could not help visiting the habitation and atelier of Artist Le Ba Dang while in Paris. Arriving at his house in Bousingault Street, I had the opportunity to admire his life space; anything from the carpet on the floor to the pillowcase in his bedroom was Le Ba Dang’s own art work – very harmonious and very unique. A home garden was set up on the top of a four-story building with exotic flowers in blossom all year round; hence the title “Vietnamese Royal Garden” in Europe. He set up a studio in another place, which had, though in the same district, to be reached by car. The quiet and spacious workshop had offered enough room to display large paintings of tens of square meters; there were art preservation warehouses, too. The third floor of the workshop faced the very luxurious Dumaine Avenue. The painting artist said he had bought the studio thirty years ago, but that it was now quite hard to compete with the Chinese in District 13. He also had a vacation-and-composition villa in Cannes.

As in Hue, each time I met him in Paris, I would listen to him discussing his view of art:

“A unique Vietnamese modern art has become a must. No Western influences, no Chinese impacts, and even no repetition of one that was used in Vietnam previously. If this uniqueness was to draw the attention from the international audience, Vietnamese art had to be developed based on the historical and cultural thoughts of Vietnam, the development of Vietnamese art (such as the story about Saint Gióng), the new land and people of Vietnam (e.g. “Saint Gióng” Fairy Tale). A modern Vietnam – not a classic nor traditional one. In fact, there is no imitation or simulation that can survive in this contemporary art. It’s high time Vietnam established an “Art for All” where everybody could create, enjoy, and profit. Art without profit would find it difficult to survive let alone develop. Art materials need not be imported. Artists may make use of any materials that are available across our nation such as clay, stone, gravel, wood, steel, paper, bamboo, rattan, etc.”

The materials that he has just mentioned, I found them right there, tidily arranged in the workshop. On his desk sprawled the finished or unfinished artworks: A steel wire bent into a Buddha statue, a stone pebble carved into a grain of rice, a piece of broken brick built into a Giao Chi foot, a landscape picture painted with several paintings hanging on the tree branches that turned into the scene of a festival, etc. Throughout the conversation, his phone just kept on ringing and he was sorry for the interruption then answered the calls from afar. People ordered his paintings on the Internet; some invited him to organize an exhibition; others shared with him the newspaper articles where his life and statues were mentioned…

He was quick, enthusiastic and energetic like a young man, despite his age of almost 85. The new idea he displayed these days was “how to recreate the gardens in Hue into art zones”. He told me, “Get the scenery adorned into a beautiful picture but cheap and easy to understand. Turn each Hue garden into a picture. The gardens must be different. This garden should be a place for the practice of displaying images of Buddha’s, Bodhisattvas, Buddhists, scriptures, and temples; it should be a rock garden whose stone is what many works of art are made up of; that garden should be a poetry one with a selection of poems not only composed by Vietnamese writers but also translated into a lot of languages in the world, engraved on stone, painted on silk, carved on wood, written on grass, or hung on some branch of a tall tree; another garden may hang naked human scenes, prohibit children under the age of 16 as well as old people aged over 60; a garden may have the Raven Bridge so that a young couple would be able to meet under (artificial) Ngâu – the so-called long distance rain; there can also be ghost gardens, which frighten people with strange and unusual feelings. This garden may be normal, where people can hold hands while admiring its beauty, but that garden should have the visitors lean back then look up to see it; yet another type has everyone lie down on their cars before they could look at the pictures. Hue gardens must be artistically renovated if they are to attract visitors and to make more contributions to the biannual Hue Festivals. If there is nothing new anymore, people would just come to Hue for a few times then forget it right after.”

As he moved on a little further, he wanted to exploit the traditional ideas in Vietnamese culture to create unique cultural goods. When Saint Gióng rode his iron horse back to heaven, he left a shadow behind. The shadow of the iron horse made what was named “The Lake of Saint Gióng Returning to Heaven”. On wedding days, people would talk about the “pink silk strings” between couples who love each other. Tie-the-knot ideas had to be expressed everywhere in such a wedding.

To make it easier for me to understand, he produced a manuscript of the trees in a wedding garden, which were tied together. The newly-wed were wearing a pair of wide-legged pants to go out with each other. Without any explanation, any foreigner would know that it was a Vietnamese wedding. He maintained,

“Man exists in life in different ways. Man has a shadow, each corner has a different shadow, and each shadow is a picture. Arts relate well with the environment. The earth does not grow any more but people are born every hour. Living people occupy land to live, dead people occupy land to bury. The rich pay for land, occupy the place of the poor living. So we have to build a “building” (spiral wall) as a cemetery for all, rich and poor can only buy a compartment to ashes their relatives. In the south west of Hue, many graves have been removed to get construction land, so soon there will be a “building” to save land and the people also save money which to buy new tombs. It would be easy to visit. If done well, the “spiral wall” will become a sightseeing area which attractive tourist attractions.

Listening to what Artist Le Ba Dang was saying, all of a sudden it sprang to my mind that, both funnily and sadly,

“Sir, you have great ideas, always new, but his artistic ideas in Paris and the reality in homeland Vietnam have the distance is quite far!”

Painting artist Le Ba Dang said,

“My mind always thinks of my hometown and does not stop working. Search for something new I write on paper right away, otherwise it will be lost. In fact, in July 2005 I will return to Vietnam to perform part of my ability, the rest , I thank you for writing to introduce to young people, to if they like, they help me. . If not then leave for the next reference, I do not keep my own.”

I did not expect Le Ba Dang to be so “cool”. His answer helped me get rid of the worries that I had when I met the eighties. I broke up and met him again in Hue.