Landscape painting has always been a fascinating and absorbed subject that many artists want to exploit and bring to their art. The development of other forms of landscape – seascapes, cityscapes or townscapes- has produced innumerable styles and techniques. For those who love the radiance and freshness of Vietnam and its landscapes, the work of Phan Thu Trang is definitely a welcome choice.Trang’s naïve, decorative works are unmistakably Vietnamese in character. Taking the landscape as her subject, Trang simplifies individual elements to their bare essentials. With a limited palette, the artist prefers the use of texture to define her subjects. Smooth areas of bright monotone paint together with the lush, painterly impasto used to define tree leaves. Vibrant, bulky vault of trees dominate spindly trunks. There is an almost narrative established in her works, with a solo female cyclist eternally pedaling. The viewer does not know from whence she came, neither her destination. With conical hat, and downcast face she seems focused and determined; struggling, cycling against the odds. Like she is caught up in an eternal race against time, the cyclist ventures on through works representing varied daylight hours. Works in gradations of blue appear as pre dawn or early evening with their soft, cool tones. Works in green and white are akin to mid morning light, while works in shades of yellow, orange and red exude the searing heat of the mid-afternoon sun in Vietnam. Born in Hanoi, like many other artists, Trang’s mind was engraved with images of Hanoi and the Northern villages. That’s why her painting is always a vivid landscape of the villagers and their life.
In her painting, Trang doesn’t try to describe what she saw but what she felt. These are memories of the places where she lived or passed by. Every moment of life has been bringing the artist to the feelings that she likes to express in her works: women going to the market from early dawn, farmers hastening to cycle on the village roads, peaceful afternoons or hot summer days… Those moments also bring her to the different sensation of color and light as well as composition. Trang’s work is also the story of human’s destiny. The people on the very paths, whom viewers can see in her paintings may have had different pieces of life which eternally identify themselves with the village gate, the trees, the rice field… Trang often uses strokes of knife to describe her feeling. There are more and more refined strokes in her paintings as if they are telling never-ending stories of people living in Vietnam. In those stories, the sky and water are depicted with the big knives. Looking at the big blocks of color, the viewers can have the feeling of the peace and immensity. The artist details the leaf canopy with the small strokes and the smallest ones for the figures. Graduating from the Theater and Cinema Academy, Trang’s strongest point is to capture the light and bring it to her paintings. She always tries to use color and light to create different sensation for each piece of her art.
Phan Thu Trang uses heavy knife strokes to create these bright and pointed Vietnamese landscapes. While seemingly naïve and decorative, true to character for many Vietnamese paintings, Trang takes a minimalist, deconstructive approach that simplifies each scene to its geometric and tonal essentials. From there she draws from her memories of growing up in Hanoi and the Northern Villages, describing the people and feelings she experienced as a child.