With Pham Luan, in his studio high above West Lake in Hanoi, where he finds inspiration for his painting.

Pham Luan

Pham Luan was born in 1954 in Hanoi, Vietnam. He graduated from the Hanoi Teachers’ Training College and embarked on a career as a teacher until succumbing to his passion for the arts, specifically painting. He was a keen admirer of the late Bui Xuan Phai, with whom he forged a friendship. He attributes much of his early confidence as a painter to the advice that he received from Phai - “Drawing is the best way of self-teaching.” Pham Luan is an autodidact in the plastic arts and, like his mentor and friend Phai, he started out by painting the old and familiar streets of Hanoi. In fact, Pham Luan was “discovered” and first found merit and recognition with his unique paintings of his hometown.

His exceptional color sense is instantly recognizable and his eye for detail is meticulous. He typically views his landscapes with sizeable angles from an elevated position that allows him to capture scenes in full perspective. Scenes of two or three-storied houses located on a street corner, complemented by rows of trees with widespread foliage and 

framed by the sky, exemplify the detail with which he surveys his landscapes. His ability to paint light is fundamental to his work, with streams of sunlight flooding the upper floors juxtaposed with the darkness of window-panes and the lower levels. Pham Luan’s streets are alive with activity and often contain references to the changing seasons, which are revealed through his trees - the pinks and purples of spring blossoms, the yellow leaves of autumn swaying in the breeze and the cold of winter portrayed through the barren branches brushing against elegant homes.

Over the years and at the suggestion and request of numerous organizations and patrons, Pham Luan has traveled the world to see and experience many countries and cultures. As a result, his paintings not only reflect the land and cityscapes from many countries, but also reflect the nuances, culture and traditions which became apparent to him through his immersive travels.

His travels throughout Asia, Europe and the US have resulted in paintings that not only convey the physical landscape but also deliver the soul of each place. In his recent exhibition in Japan (sponsored by Toriizaka Art and held at the 900+ room ANA InterContinental Hotel), Pham Luan explored the country’s natural beauty through his portrayal of native trees such as the Ginko, Cherry and Maple. In preparation for the exhibition, Pham Luan visited Japan in both the spring and fall to capture the essence of the country and its peoples.

His destinations included the vibrant metropolis of Tokyo, the historic city of Kyoto with its historic Kinkakuji and Kiyomizu Temples, the natural wonders of Arashiyama, Nara, and Mt. Fuji as well as other places famous for their Hanami Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festivals). The stunning trees in different hues, shapes and compositions became the main subject of many exhibited paintings.

The trees were portrayed through layers of patches and blotches of paint, each building upon another to create tactile surfaces and depth. The 25 paintings in the exhibition represented different facets of Japan, from familiar natural landscapes such as Chidorigafuchi and Icho Namiki in Tokyo to daily life which could be observed anywhere in Japan with roofs, gates, parks, streets, temples, houses, bridges and urban buildings that appeared interspersed and beneath the trees and foliage.

Pham Luan employs two styles of painting. Beside his descriptive style, faithfully depicting scenes with naturalistic accuracy, he also easily shifts to a more expressionist style where space is illuminated by sensations of color and brightened by details in the figures that occupy that space. A majority of his works are distinguished by their visible realism. However these days, he enjoys moving between his impressionist and expressionist styles. In fact, when viewed up close, his large paintings take on an abstract character but on moving away the scenery becomes more distinct, implying the same sensations of changing nature in reality.

Pham Luan has been painting for over four decades and has exhibited in London, New York, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo and Singapore. Pham Luan’s initial muse, however, was Hanoi, with its scenic location on the banks of the Red River, its lakes and ponds, the clarity of light, verdant greenery, elegant French architecture, and the wealth of its own culture in contrast to both Eastern and Western influences.

To assuage his love of water, the sound of waves crashing against the shore, and his need for tranquil and peaceful views, he lives high above West Lake in Hanoi. This vantage point for both his home and his studio provides him with a constant source of creativity. Memories and photographs from his worldwide travels are an equal a source of inspiration and when a vision comes over him, he disappears into his studio for hours and days at a time to satiate his creativity.

Articles about Pham Luan have been featured in Asian Art News on multiple occasions and several of his paintings are in notable private collections as well as the permanent collection of the National Fine Art Museum of Vietnam. Pham Luan is a member of Vietnam Fine Arts Association and of the Hanoi Fine Arts Association.

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