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Painter Pham Binh Chuong: profound memories of a Hanoi
Jenna Duong 11:06, 2023/07/09
Though defaced by rapid urbanization and globalization, Hanoi still features old and new charms, shown in contemporary artworks by a renowned artist.

Hanoi is always an endless inspiration for art. The capital city has been a subject for many generations of artists throughout the times. 

The painters, either on the street or in their gallery, draw the motions of Hanoi’s streets and life to depict the daily transformation of the capital city. One of them is Pham Binh Chuong.

Born in 1973, the artist graduated from Hanoi College of Fine Arts, now the Vietnam University of Fine Arts. He has held various solo exhibitions with Hanoi-related themes in the capital city, Ho Chi Minh City, and the United States. Meanwhile, his paintings can be found in a variety of private collections across the world.

Hanoi's renowned painter Pham Binh Chuong. Photo: Nguyen Viet Thanh

Painting with a pure and deep love for Hanoi

If people spend enough time in Hanoi, they will realize that it is changing day by day. The capital is on its way to a more modern and comfortable city. On the other hand, with this pace of development, many cultural traits of the millennial capital are also fading, especially since the former Ha Tay Province was incorporated into Hanoi.

Chuong was born, grew up and went to school on the tree-lined Ly Thuong Kiet Street, before enrolling in the Hanoi College of Fine Arts on Yet Kieu Street.

Chuong bought an up-stair flat on Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, smack in the middle of the pedestrian zone, as a place to live and paint. Having spent three-quarters of his life around the Lake of Swords, the artist loves Hanoi as much as other "true" Hanoians, who always know they can reach streets like Quang Trung or Nguyen Du just by smelling the air.

In different moods, Hanoians often roam the streets - whether to gaze at some young sea almond leaves in spring, to inhale the scent of milkwood blossoms in autumn, to visit memory-filled corners that are being spoiled, or to find a small corner to be moody alone.

“I only draw what remains in Hanoi when I hold the brush. I paint with genuine emotions that the scene brings to me. I may beautify it with colors and emotions, but not with romanticism or idealism. In other words, I don’t lie,” - said Chuong.

The painter’s love for the city is so passionate that he has created hundreds of paintings of Hanoi - each of which takes a whole month to complete.

 A nostalgic beauty of Hanoi in the reality

 

The nostalgic beauty of Hanoi in a painting by Pham Binh Chuong

Chuong has an expressive style to depict the streets of Hanoi. He draws what he sees without exaggeration, typically mossy walls with cracks in the paint. Each of his works looks like a small piece of Hanoi’s spaces.

The stairs in an ancient house, a hackberry or sea almond tree coming into leaf, a door painted green - the trendy color of about 50 years ago, a bicycle lying idle in the courtyard of an old-fashioned apartment building, a book rental shop that many middle-aged people still remember. Everything Chuong draws comes from his memories, similar to those of many old Hanoians’. He loves the natural beauty of life as it is.

It's as if  Chuong uses lines and colors to write vignettes about Hanoi. From the artist’s perspective, the capital city is seen differently: not only a typical autumn but also a scorching summer, not only the relaxed nature but also the sloppy and chaotic sights.

 A familiar corner of the capital city in Hanoi painter Pham Binh Chuong 

 “Hanoi’s so beautiful. It’s not the modern, fast-paced, bustling Hanoi we see today. It’s a calm beauty, and we have to slow down ourselves to see it,” Chuong said, adding, “My view is to show familiar corners through street scenes so that everyone who looks at my paintings will feel like they’ve been there. It’s a quiet, warm and elegant Hanoi”.

I’m not a nostalgic person because it’s true that we have to face reality: Hanoi as we know is disappearing, Chuong said.

"So, I'll always have to find that beauty in the present, even though it’s getting harder to find day by day. This haunting feeling has been with me for twenty years, and that’s why I displayed “Going Downtown 3” to sum up my period of perseverance and show gratitude to Hanoi and Hanoi lovers,” the painter explained.

Practicing art in the truest way

As a native of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, the painter has witnessed the capital’s development over the decades.

Hanoi, in his paintings, may seem antiquated, but it’s the authentic Hanoi. His works are fragments of memories that still linger, carrying the feelings of a Hanoian since birth.

Chuong’s greatest consolation is that he does something few people do - he paints what he can still see now, knowing for sure that it will be gone tomorrow.

In this way, the artist accidentally becomes a guardian of Hanoi’s heritage, preserving values that are gradually lost. Perhaps this thought has somewhat softened the anger and sadness of a Hanoi lover.

Painter Pham Binh Chuong and his late father, the great Hanoi painter Pham Cong Thanh. Photo courtesy of the artist

Born the son of a great Hanoi painter, the late Pham Cong Thanh, Chuong was taught the rules of perspective and became a realist painter like his father.

“I only paint Hanoian streets with the old and the new intertwined. I’m trying to hold on to a land of memories, worried that tomorrow Hanoi will change completely and there won’t be anything left of the past,” he said.

A father’s love for Hanoi has been completely passed on to his son. And this love is upheld by Chuong, who said: “When it comes to art, ‘truth’ must be mentioned first. It’s the most important thing, followed by the concept of ‘goodness’ and ‘beauty’”.

The painter chose the realist painting style to express his love for Hanoi on canvas, where the medieval sights will remain as they once were.

In Chuong’s paintings, Hanoi is so romantic with medieval balconies, windows and staircases, green foliage, and flower scent… that they are painted by his pure but deep love for the capital.

The nostalgic paintings will be kept as the embodiment of the profound memories of the city among Hanoian generations.

Below are some Hanoi-themed oil on canvas artworks by Pham Binh Chuong:

The Sunlight in the Autumn's End/ 2021

 The Flavor of Tet/ 2022

An Indian Almond Tree in Winter/ 2019

 A Cold Rainy Day in Winter/ 2021

 Morning in a Road Fork/ 2021

The Nha Chung Street in Hanoi's Old Quarter  in a painting by Pham Binh Chuong
Having spent three-quarters of his life around the Lake of Swords, the artist loves Hanoi as much as other "true" Hanoians, who always know they can reach streets like Quang Trung or Nguyen Du just by smelling the air.
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