The Vietnamese knew how to use lacquer as a decorative medium to varnish on pagodas,wooden panels, and other valuable objects more than 2000 years ago. But in 1925, Vietnamese talented art students in Indochinese College of Fine Arts, after seeing some Western paintings and
techniques, were inspired to create a new art form by applying the traditional lacquer technique in painting. The very first Vietnamese lacquer paintings simply expressed the beauty of nature. Later, lacquer paintings tended to focus more on promoting socialist and communist values.
Each artist has their own way to use lacquer in their paintings for purpose of expressing their personality. In fact, Vietnamese lacquer paintings are various, durable, beautiful and natural. These paintings are alive and their surfaces becomes more and more lustrous after years. There is no doubt that Vietnamese Lacquer Art deserves to be recognized as a World heritage because of its unique values.
So what makes Vietnamese Lacquer Painting become a unique art form?
One of the most important materials to produce Vietnamese lacquer paintings is the lacquer. Lacquer is a natural product made from the sap of Rhus succedanea, which is mainly grown in Phu Tho province in the south of Vietnam.
Lacquer is harvested in the same way as rubber; an incision is made in the bark of the tree to collect the sap. When tapped, the sap is white, but
gradually turns either black or brown upon exposure to air. Then the sap is clear up so that its solid sinks to the bottom and the pure sap rises on the top. Next, the pure sap is skimmed off, mixed with pine sap, stirred up for three days until they get an even texture.
This final lacquer is used by artists. Basically, lacquer has two main colors, either black or brown. If artists want a range of colors, they will mix natural or artifical dyes with lacquer. The lacquer the Vietnamese use in their paintings is very special and completely different from lacquer from other countries in Asia, such as Japan, China, Taiwan, Cambodia and Lao. That is why Vietnamese artists cannot use lacquers from different countries to produce their lacquer paintings. If they do, their paintings will have a lower quality. Vietnamese lacquer does require longer time to dry than Japanese industrial paints do. However, Japanese industrial paints leave a far thinner layer on the canvas. Hence, when a painting is rubbed and polished, the outcome lacks the visual depth of lacquer. In short, Vietnamese lacquer plays an irreplaceable role in Vietnamese lacquer art.
Some other materials may be used to make lacquer paintings, including egg shells, gold leaf, silver leaf, seashell, sand, epoxy and clay. Interestingly, silver leaf is used below the layer of color to create an effect of immense luster. Gold leaf, on the other hand, is applied as the final layer to make paintings gain more attention.
LABOR – INTENSIVE AND TIME-CONSUMING
Vietnamese lacquer paintings are the result of a very complicated process that is extremely labor- intensive and time-consuming. It may take months or even years to complete a work, depending on the techniques used by the artisits, how many layers of lacquer are included, and how artists want to express their personalities through their paintings.
The foundation of Vietnamese lacquer painting is a plywood board. This board comes in a variety of sizes according to the artists’ requests. It is covered up by several layers of lacquer and then smoothed and polished before adding new lacquer layers. First, the plywood is covered up by a mixture of lacquer and dust to make sure its surface is smooth. Then it is left to dry. Next, artists use clear lacquer to attach thin cotton cloths to both sides of plywood board. It usually takes one day to dry the cotton mixture. After it dries, the board will be smoothed and polished. Then the process of covering with more lacquer, leaving to dry, and waxing is applied several times till artists feel the surface of the board is smooth enough.
Finally, they apply the layer of black lacquer. Again, this final layer will be left to dry, then smoothed and polished. Thus the final outcome is the back board, that is very smooth and durable. It will not be crack due to temperature. The final step is the art work which includes composing the paintings, using the combinations of paints, seashell, eggshell, gold leaf, silver leaf and other materials and polishing products. Artists use lacquer and dust to smooth the plywood board at the first layer ever.
First, artists use chalk to draw a pattern on the board. In other kinds of art works, the details is the last thing artists need to work on, whereas in Vietnamese lacquer paintings, artists have to lay out all the details of their paintings from the beginning. In other words, they have a concrete idea of what their painting will look like. Artist use chalk to compose pattern on the plywood board
Interestingly, those images in their mind are gone away immediately right after they finish composing the patterns. This is because the pattern later will be colored by lacquer and other materials, depending on the artist’s design up to 10 times with different colors in same areas each time. Depending on what artists want to express, they will decide how many layers are included in their paintings.
When satisfied with all the layers, artists will start to polish and rub. This process needs to be done with great care because everything might disappear. Artists need to remember in what layer they put which color, and have to be extremely careful not to rub too hard. If not, they can rub through the layer they want to keep. A small mistake in this process can be disastrous. In some situations, a specific color nuance can be made by gently rubbing the interface between two color layers.
Different artists have different ways to create their lacquer paintings. During paintings, artists not only use their hands and eyes, but also their heart and soul to express their own personality. By laying out style, represent image creation, touch and color, artists give their products soulful vitality. By using our service, we will arrange the meeting between you and talented Vietnamese lacquer artists. Through a small conversation, you definitely have a better understanding about Vietnamese lacquer painting in general, their lacquer painting styles andobserve the process they use to make lacquer paintings.