The path of an artist can be arduous and difficult; the path of a lacquer artist even more so. For it is a crowded and well trodden path, but most who travel down it never quite find what they are looking for.

Nguyen Thi Mai is a rare talent who is devoting her life and precious time to this artistic pursuit with steadfast perseverance despite the many obstacles and pitfalls she encounters along the way.

Nguyen Thi Mai started down this road in 2004, discovering her artistic self through oil on canvas, acrylic on canvas, ink painting on Vietnamese clamshell paper, silk painting, etc. In 2009, Mai began to focus seriously on lacquer painting, under the tutelage and guidance of Painter NGUYEN HUY HOANG. Mai could see that her teacher uses very proper and traditional techniques in his own artistic creation, and the effect such techniques have on the finished masterpieces. This greatly excites her, giving her the strength and motivation to delve much more deeply into lacquer painting. Through her dedication and hard work, Mai has herself become a highly skilful lacquer artist, with techniques boasting of fluency, maturity and steadfastness.

In the past two years, her work has been displaying a latent strength in them that flows from one piece of work to the next. Mai’s unpolished lacquer work displays a steadily rising raw energy that reminds me of the magma flow leading up to a volcanic eruption.

Who would resist the beauty and luster of gold and the shiny gems that are depicted in so many polished lacquer artwork, not unlike the treasure vault of a royal palace? But Mai could! Following her own artistic instinct, she looked beyond the shiny brilliance of polished lacquer, and decided to stop at the penultimate step, leaving her lacquer work unpolished. But yet, her work displays a unique beauty that is unlike that of others. In the past, Mai dabbled in polished lacquer work too, but it left her feeling incomplete and unfulfilled. Unpolished lacquer offers a way for her to complete her own soul, in a way that many other people might consider incomplete ….

Many artists have tried to modernize lacquer painting in many different ways. And some of them brought harm to the art of lacquer painting, in the sense of going against and bringing disrespect to the tradition of lacquer painting.

With Mai, she has no intention to modernize or go against the tradition of lacquer painting.

Mai adheres strictly to the traditional techniques of lacquer painting. After applying many layers of coloring, she does the sanding of each and every layer using the “Deep & Shallow” technique.

Mai uses simple color combination, with little gold and gemstone, unlike most other artists. The figures she uses are simple and unexaggerated, but beautiful and unusual. Through her work, one can detect her strong natural instinct, which along with her feminine self and the traditional Vietnamese values, have been transferred onto her art pieces. Mai tells me that when she paints, it’s as if she is hypnotized, wandering and following the various threads woven into the stories of others and herself. The raw figures, scattering patterns, roomy lines of various thickness, the delicate rhythm of brightness and darkness, create a sense of surrealism and dreamlike state that is of her making.

Looking at Mai’s work, it is easy to be surprised by her raw, but delicate and heartfelt emotion. Her work poses a question whether there is a need to polish the lacquer painting, or perhaps this is her own innovation in technique to accomplish lacquer painting? Mai’s paintings invoke beautiful dreams, simple and unaffected by the thousands of changes in life. Rarely can one attain such calmness in the mind, enabling one to dream these dreams.

But somewhere in Mai’s work, there is a minor need for gold, red and darkness, to make it even more attractive and more dreamlike.

On the long road towards conquering art, surely Painter Nguyen Thi Mai has more than just determination, but as well as the belief, the love and the faithfulness. Therefore, her achievements are already becoming obvious and very closed to her grasp.

Painter Vu Dinh Tuan – Lecturer, Vietnam Fine Art University, Hanoi, Vietnam.
Hanoi, 20th November 2012