Painter Vu Thai Binh has spent years researching and perfecting the art of painting on poonah paper, breathing life of modern fine arts into Vietnam’s traditional and unique poonah paper.
Born in 1976 in the northern province of Hung Yen, Vu Thai Binh is known in the Vietnam’s contemporary art scene for his time and efforts spent on poonah paper painting. He studied Dó paper in 2013 while identifying his own style and was fascinated by the traditional material.
His two exhibitions “Color of Dó 1” in 2016 and “Color of Dó 2” in 2018 in Hanoi received high praise from both critics and art lovers, paving the way for his 3rd exhibition “Color of Dó 3”, scheduled for next year.
His paintings on Dó paper have been loved and purchased for collections in the UK, US, Canada, Thailand, Japan, among others.
The craft of making poonah paper dates back thousands of years in Vietnam. Dó paper, which comes from the bark of poonah trees in northern provinces of Vietnam, has long been used for painting or writing, as seen in renowned folklore paintings, calligraphy and documents from past dynasties and family annals.
It took Binh years to master the art of drawing on Dó paper which remains an artistic challenge for many contemporary artists.
“It’s never been easy to draw on poonah paper which was often in writings and later in folk paintings like Dong Ho and Hang Trong,” Binh confided, “I want to breath new life and creativity into Dó paper. I want it to be preserved and further promoted.”
“Dó paper is rustic and I feel satisfied and happy drawing all I want on this traditional paper of Vietnam. It would be a great loss if one day Dó paper falls into oblivion. That’s why I chose to draw on Dó paper to promote it as long as I can.”
Binh has found his own techniques of drawing on Dó paper. His paintings are often big, featuring diverse topics: landscape, still-life, animals, people, and rural villages. His typical works include “Quiet Noon”, “My hometown”, “Loyal”, “Time”, and “The Red Dao Woman”.
Architecture Doan Van Tuan, a fan of Binh’s paintings, told VOV that he há found Binh’s paintings a combination of scientific, artistic, and technical factors. “His sharp observations are softly and cleverly conveyed in his paintings on the very rustic material of Dó paper,.” Tuan said.
Binh discovered that poonah paper kept for a long time will become softer and much easier to draw on than those freshly made. His drawings are precise yet soft and refined.
Painter Minh Phuong elaborated it’s almost impossible to draw on Dó paper because it is very thin and requires the painter’s high precision in the way he moves his brush to avoid creating holes in it.
“It’s also impossible to correct any mistakes during the drawing process. A painting on Dó paper looks beautiful, refined and still new even 5 decades later,” Phuong said.
Each of Binh’s paintings is a combination of many layers of Dó paper. His watercolors blur on the thin and soft paper bringing much emotion for the audience.