It was a beautiful afternoon in Nha Trang when I enjoyed afternoon tea and looked at the painting exhibition by Bridget March in the lobby of the Intercontinental Nha Trang, which runs until 14 April.
Bridget March is an English artist who has lived and worked in Vietnam for six years. She and I met the first time four years ago, at a gallery in HCMC in 2013, when she introduced me to her first collection created in Vietnam, with the theme ‘Post Card’. I still remember the stories behind each of her post cards, which depicted her experiences with Vietnamese culture. Natural landscapes and old architecture in Vietnam, which are being lost in modern life, have become her inspiration and I respect her as a volunteer cultural preserver.
After a career as a freelance product designer for 20 years and nine years as a lecturer at a specialist college of art in the UK, she came to HCMC in 2012 and was soon fascinated by the country’s history and culture. Watercolour and sketching are her preferred mediums in capturing the colour of the country. ‘As an artist, I try hard to reveal the beauty of Vietnam to people who live here and those who are just visiting,’ she said. ‘Often we don’t notice the beauty that surrounds us or how everyday things tell stories about our unique culture. People are so busy they don’t take the time to truly experience and enjoy the architecture, colours, patterns and landscapes that they live in. My work helps viewers take life a little slower and see things they hadn’t really seen before.’
In the exhibition at the Intercontinental Nha Trang she presents 19 masterpieces in bright colours that focus on the beauty of the landscapes and old architecture in the different regions she has visited, like Halong Bay, Sapa, Hanoi, Hoi An, Nha Trang, HCMC, the Mekong Delta and Con Dao Island. ‘Part of the process of my work is to sit, observe, listen to and interact with the subject of my paintings,’ she explained. ‘Even under the hottest sun or heaviest rain I at least do a little sketch to commit my emotions to memory. Most of the drawings of HCMC I drew on the street so I could feel the rush of traffic and noise.’
I love the colours and the light in her paintings, which are romantic, nostalgic, and full of emotion. She seems to catch the most beautiful moments of objects and put them in her art. ‘This is colourful windows of old houses in HCMC,’ she tells me. ‘This is basket boats on the beach and islands in Hoi An under the sun. And this is peace descending on the garden of an old villa by the sea on Con Dao Island in the afternoon. Here in the shade of a Sea Walnut, alone with memories of conversations.’
Personally, I like her two paintings of Sapa. It’s springtime, when parts of the mountains are carpeted with blossoms and apple and plum trees are in bloom. She then gave me her art book, entitled ‘A Summer in Sapa’, which is a wonderful result of four months living, painting and learning about the cultures of the local ethnic minority people. As she wrote in the book: ‘In those mountains, you can discover what it is to be a civilised human being. You can re-learn how to share love and to laugh together; to trust like you have never trusted before.’ The book showcases fantastic Sapa landscapes and talks about ethnic minority people like H’mong, Red Dao, Tay, Xa Pho and Giay, with their traditional costumes, customs, and food illustrated by her paintings.
‘Painting with Bridget March’ is a side activity held during the exhibition at the Intercontinental Nha Trang, and of course I was excited to join one of the classes, which are for beginners. The class had six people and was set up in a nice room on the 19th floor, which boasted a panoramic view of Nha Trang Bay at sunset. We were inspired by our topic: painting the landscapes of Nha Trang Bay. We enjoyed the beauty of the bay, with the blue stretching from sea to sky and white sand beaches and islands, before Bridget gave us a photo of Nha Trang Bay on A4 paper. She then showed us the different shades of blue and green in the photo and advised us to think about our favourite colours to paint.
We practiced using different brushes and water colours, learned how to mix them together to make new colours and how to use tissue on a blue background to create clouds. Bridget made us feel free and eager to play with colours in our own style. After nearly an hour, six paintings were finished showing six different versions of Nha Trang Bay. We eagerly listened to her comments, then together talked joyfully and gazed out over the actual beauty of Nha Trang Bay in the sparkling moonlight.
The following morning, we had another interesting experience, with an outdoor art class with Bridget at one of the most beautiful places in Nha Trang - Po Nagar Cham Tower. It was the weekend and there was a crowd of tourists visiting the 1,000-year-old tower, which is a symbol of Nha Trang. We chose a corner to the right of the main door, where we had a nice view of the tower. The first technique for us to learn was using a pencil to identify the dimensions - the height from the top to the bottom of the tower and its width. I was enchanted by the unique architecture of Po Nagar Tower, with its beautiful patterned details of arches, but it was also a challenge for me to paint it. But my teacher suggested I paint the tower as I see it in my beginner eyes, with simple lines, while focusing on colours. Once again, I had the chance to dance with colours. The art classes with Bridget awoke a love of art inside me.
Those interested in art classes with Bridget March in HCMC can contact her at Vin Gallery, 6 Le Van Mien, District 2, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.