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Son mai

‘Son mai’ – the painstaking Vietnamese art of lacquer painting (via Tuoi Tre News)

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Once chiefly employed in the decoration of wooden objects, son mai, or lacquer painting, has grown over the last century into a freestanding art form in Vietnam, to a point where it is now widely considered to be the country’s national painting technique.

The traditional Vietnamese lacquer used in son mai is made by mixing the resin from a Japanese wax tree with natural pigments to create different colored paints.

“Resin from the Japanese wax tree was initially used by ancient Vietnamese as a solvent for coatings on wooden decorations,” said Nguyen Thanh Binh, a lacquer painter.

“The French were the first to discover characteristics of the resin that are similar to those of flaxseed oil, which is a common carrier used in oil paint.”

It was in the 1920s that son mai became prominently recognized as a form of art in Vietnam through artwork by the ‘father of Vietnamese lacquer painting’ Nguyen Gia Tri, who studied at the Hanoi College of Fine Arts, and his French professor Joseph Inguimberty.

The final finish of paintings done with traditional Vietnamese lacquer is never predictable, as surprising outcomes can be achieved that are outside of an artist’s control.

“There are effects that cannot be captured in photos and must be contemplated in person,” Binh said.

“The enigmatic and magical beauty of traditional lacquer has charmed generations of artists and enthralled art lovers around the world.”

However, not all artists have the patience and passion to go through an arduous process of finishing a son mai painting from scratch using traditional lacquer.

 

Read more on Tuoi Tre News.

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