Painter looks back on a life of revolution

Published: 27/01/2009 05:00



Lookatvietnam – Phan Ke An, a painter famous for capturing the indelible aspects of Viet Nam, speaks to Minh Thu about art, the revolution and Uncle Ho.

Enduring memory: Most of Phan Ke An’s best-known works were painted during the resistance war.

The late painter To Ngoc Van (1906-54) is known for his masterpiece Thieu Nu Ben Hoa Hue city (Girl and Lilies). But, his disciple, painter Phan Ke An, is famous in his own right thanks to the painting responsible for his rise to fame, Nho Mot Chieu Tay Bac (Remembering an Afternoon in the Northwest of Viet Nam).

An was born in 1923 to a wealthy family. His father, Phan Ke Toai, was a feudal mandarin, but supported the revolution against French invaders.

An joined the army before the August Revolution and created many paintings attacking the armed aggressors and supporting Viet Nam’s troops.

Painter of war

When An was a fine arts student, he joined the national liberation movement. With his friends, An even stole guns from the Japanese army for the Viet Nam Federation of Independence and received encouragement from his patriotic father.

When Chinese troops invaded the country, the political situation became difficult for Vietnamese revolutionaries.

“We, a group of fine arts students, painted and publicised cartoons and propaganda posters to support our revolution,” An says.

Pen and pad: Despite his old age, Phan Ke An still works regularly in his studio.

His famous painting Nho Mot Chieu Tay Bac has caused many people to explore the beautiful mountains where soldiers were once stationed. Poet Doan Viet Bac even composed a poem inspired by An’s work:

Troi Tay Bac trong veo nga ngoc

Troi nhu cam duoc tren ban tay

Anh tha chieu vao tranh

(The north-west sky over mountains at sunset is as clear as jade. Clouds seem to be held on hands. The painter blows dusk into the painting.)

Sketching the late President Ho Chi Minh

An worked for Su That (The Truth) Newspaper in 1948. When An was given the opportunity to paint President Ho Chi Minh’s portrait, he was honoured but very nervous.

“I had a marvellous opportunity to meet and paint Uncle Ho. However, this was difficult. I wondered whether I would be able to paint him,” An says.

“A painter can’t bother Uncle Ho and ask him to sit still and pose for hours on end. Furthermore, it was difficult to capture his thoughts and intellectual world,” An says.

Instead, the artist used time to his advantage and painted the leader everywhere he could.

During the time An spent painting Uncle Ho, he had a chance to eat his meals with the beloved leader.

“Working beside the President would be an honour for anyone. He kept offering me cigarettes, which I decided to save for my colleagues,” An says.

Once, when An was finishing a portrait of Uncle Ho, the President turned to him with a smile and asked, “An, how many cigarettes have you saved?”

“So, my secret was out,” An says, “I had to confess to him that I had saved 13 cigarettes. Knowing that the editorial office had 30 journalists. Uncle Ho gave me 17 more, enough for all the staff.”

In the time he spent working beside the President, An painted a total of 20 portraits, which were published by Su That Newspaper.

Last August, An donated his sketches and a wood-carving of President Ho Chi Minh to the Ho Chi Minh Museum.

Fruits of labour

When reflecting on his career, An always expresses his admiration for his three masters: his primary school teacher, the late painter To Ngoc Van and General Vo Nguyen Giap, who taught him about life and painting.

Their portraits hang in his office to this day.

In addition to President Ho Chi Minh, An has painted many well-known figures such as writers The Lu and Nguyen Cong Hoan, as well as painters Tran Van Can and Bui Xuan Phai. With a few simple strokes, An is able to capture his models.

An has created over 1,000 works of art: caricature, still-life, landscape paintings and portraits in lacquer, oil, silk, water colour and pastel.

The artist overcame many difficulties to paint during wartime, earning him a place of honour in the history of Viet Nam and international fine arts.

His paintings are on display at the Oriental Museum in Russia, and his name has been entered into encyclopaedias of fine arts in Russia and Germany.

An has also won a number of art prizes, including the Government’s 2001 Noble Medal.

Now, at the age of 85, An still loses himself in painting. He sometimes works for ten hours at a time without feeling tired.

(Source: Viet Nam News)

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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