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At Bùi Chát's Painting Exhibition, a Freedom to Feel Without Preconceptions

Contemporary art can intimidate viewers. People often think they need familiarity with certain histories, theories, philosophies and biographies to appreciate a painting. I have friends who do not have a formal art education or extensive art background and thus think visual art is not for them. 

This doubt and self-consciousnesses elicited by visual art is similar to the reactions I hear when poetry, the art form I am most experienced with, is brought up. “I just don’t get it,” they say with a deflated shrug and frown. In such situations, I stress that there are no right or wrong answers, no trick or solution; all that matters is how it makes you think or feel. The only requirement for art is that you approach it as a human. 

A perfect opportunity to apply my not-so-novel advice is at Bùi Chát’s ongoing exhibition, “Vùng lụa” (Silk Zones). Before he began painting, Bùi Chát was a member of the poetry collective Mở Miệng (Open Mouth), and their raucous, adventurous poems attracted acclaim in Vietnam and abroad. Indeed, he is an insightful, evocative, powerful writer, yet, all 19 paintings in his new exhibition are untitled. Why? He explained to me that he didn’t want viewers to be influenced, or swayed before they look and form their own thoughts and feelings.

True to this desire, when I met Bùi Chát and his wife, Nguyễn Thanh Anh, at J Art Space last weekend, before he would talk about his paintings, he asked me to walk around the gallery and spend time absorbing the work. He didn’t want me to arrive at them with preconceived ideas or expectations. He painted them with a similar sense of spontaneous unknowing. Produced during the COVID-19 period when Bùi Chát was looking for peace and comfort within the day’s stresses and fears, he improvised the shapes and colors developed according to his mood and instinct.

The large oil works that mimic the texture of silk paintings (hence the exhibition’s name), filled me with a serenity, an appreciation for the immediacy of the present, gratitude for color, light, air and water along with a certain nostalgia for the future. But that’s just me. You must go for yourself. I promise you, as long as you go as a human being, it can be for you.

"Vùng Lụa" is available for viewing from March 21 to April 17 at J Artspace. Head to the venue's Facebook page for more details.

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