Love of lotus

Artist Nguyen Thi Tam has put the lotus flower at the core of her recent body of work.

By CAC TRUC on March 07,2018 09:09 AM

Love of lotus

Photos provided by the artist

I finished my painting and laid back on the couch just as my teacher came down the stairs from behind me. ‘How’s it going?’ she asked. I looked at her, and replied ‘I finished this one, and want to try something new.’ She sat down and we talked about the different topics I could work on. I always love this moment, when we sit and talk about whatever in a small room adorned by a host of paintings.

My teacher, artist Nguyen Thi Tam, is an admirable figure to many art connoisseurs, artists and the public thanks to her unique style. She became famous from her silk paintings featuring Vietnamese culture and landscapes, but later on only focused on painting lotus flowers, which she had long admired artistically for their grace and elegance. I looked at my favourite piece, which always calms me down, and wondered aloud: ‘Why is it that you paint lotus flowers? I mean, they’re beautiful, but don’t you get bored of repeatedly painting the same thing?’  Her answer reminded me of an Edgar Degas saying: ‘Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.’

The lotus is minimal, simple and transcendent. Tam’s work eliminates all the unnecessary details and colours and focuses on the core of its simplicity. But in order to retain what is important and decide what is not, she spent a massive amount of time observing the petals as they fluttered in the breeze, to understand how the veins radiated out from the centre to the margins, how they split off two-thirds of the way towards the edge.

Love of lotus

The most distinctive feature of Tam’s paintings is their rich and subtle colour patterns, which depict the meaning of lotus flowers in Buddhism. White means purity of the mind and spirit, blue wisdom and logic, red love and compassion, purple awakening, gold the achievement of enlightenment, and pink the history and legend of Buddha. Everywhere the Buddha stepped, it’s said, a lotus flower bloomed. I guess one of the reasons my teacher favours lotus flowers in her paintings is that they remind us of rising above the defilements and suffering of life, ‘like a lotus flower that grows out of the mud and blossoms above the muddy water’, according to Buddhist teaching. And although the flowers look quite delicate, the petals are substantial. The strong stems of the flowers and leaves transform from deep within mud and reach up into the air. It’s like how Tam has lived her life, continuing to reveal the essentially pure nature of her talent despite the sad and disappointing moments that can accompany life. The lotus is rendered realistically, capturing light through movement and illusion.

Love of lotus

Learning to observe the lotus is not easy, and learning to understand its meaning is even harder. But the more you grasp the nature, significance and meaning of your subject, the more it ‘lives’ in your paintings. There are no short cuts to authenticating a piece of art; just time, patience and study.

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