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Ngo Van Sac

Born in 1980, Ngo Van Sac is a contemporary Vietnamese artist who graduated with an MFA from Hanoi Fine Arts University in 2008. Now, in addition to painting and creating in his Hanoi studio, he is a lecturer of Fine Arts at The Hanoi National University of Education, and a member of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association. Along with numerous solo exhibitions of his work since 1999, he won The Dogma Prize for self-portraiture in 2012, and took second place for the same prize in 2011.

Ngo Van Sac is well known for his pyrography (wood burning) portraits. Created by combining torching and controlled burning, historical Vietnamese poetry and other contemporary painting and layering techniques, Ngo Van Sac’s portraits are a testament to a simplicity of materials that can be used to create fine art. Each piece starts from a block of fresh, untreated wood, where the patterns in the grain suggest the subject. Using a charcoal pencil, he sketches the outline of the portrait(s). He then uses a blowtorch to create features, some subtle, others detailed, which often include clothing, shadowing, decorative ornamentation and wrinkles. The eyes in his subjects are the window into their soul and are critically important in each composition. Painted features such as headwear, scarves and clothing are authentic and typical of the various minority and hilltribe people represented in his work.

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Ngo Van Sac has said that one day he may return to conventional canvas and techniques, but for now, he has fallen in love with the authentic intensity that an untreated wood block gives to his art. The feeling of each of his pieces is just as important as the detail, and much of the feeling is informed by the natural runs and curves in the wood and the choice of poetry placed behind the bust in the center of many of his pieces. In some cases, his choice to have nothing but the burned and sanded features of a head and face looking out at the observer, surrounded by untouched wood, brings out the direct, serious nature of his portraits and suggests introspection. In other cases, complex collages are highlighted within a larger portrait, suggesting a series of complex relationships.

The sensitivity to shading and his keen aesthetic sense that seamlessly combines his portraits with the lines in the wood, coupled with his choice of ancient Vietnamese logographic poetry, is proof of his skill and often a tribute to both the individual within the portrait, and the history of Vietnam. Very few of Ngo Van Sac’s pieces don’t have a pair of piercing eyes demanding a response from the audience, asking them to look into the story of his pieces, to wonder about the histories, the lives and the souls that are captured exquisitely by Sac in his portraiture.

Internationally, his works have been shown in solo exhibitions in Malaysia, China, Hungary, Amsterdam, Canada, the United States and Austria. His work is supported by his years of experience, his attention to detail, and his ability to bring together many disunited small facets to create a larger whole.

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