The art of lacquer painting is a delicate, time consuming craft, requiring the application of many layers, and hours needed to wait for the sap of the Chinese lacquer tree to dry and contract on the surface of the painting. Traditionally, lacquer painters only used shades of brown, red and black, which dominates Nguyen Sang’s Buffaloes. However, advances made in the techniques of lacquer painting by veteran artist Nguyen Gia Tri added more colours to lacquer painters’ palettes.
Nguyen Sang presents an ingenious manipulation of the craft’s traditional methods to produce a modern twist on the ancient art form. We see innovation in Buffloes on two fronts: in terms of the subtle departure from the traditional red, black and brown colours with blue paint, and in Nguyen Sang’s observation and depiction of the humble buffalo. Completely filling the page, the composition of this painting has shifted from the balance between the animal and the rest of the canvas, to the balance of elements used to depict the animal’s individual body parts. In a similar fashion, we see in Two Cats that the artist has applied a similar observational style to his depiction of the animals sizing each other up. Here, we sense that there is more narrative present than there is an attempt to accurately reproduce what the artist sees. The patches of dark fur on both cats seem to slide outside the lines separating their bodies from the ground, hinting at the swift movements the animals are making. Their heads are turned at unnatural angles in order to portray the intensity with which they are transfixed upon each other.
The brush work, stylization and composition in both these two paintings are fascinating in their effect. Contradictory to the smooth aesthetic effect that other ornamental lacquer painters strive to achieve with their work, Nguyen Sang breaks the rules of what we expect from lacquer art, and instead, as viewers we gain a highly textured, expressive view of the artist’s creative eye and imaginative world.