How Architect Hồ Viết Vinh Captures Nature’s Stillness In Abstraction | Vietcetera
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Aug 31, 2023

How Architect Hồ Viết Vinh Captures Nature’s Stillness In Abstraction

Architect Hồ Viết Vinh believes the quest comes to a pause only when inner peace is attained. Upon observing nature, this serenity is mirrored within the artwork.
How Architect Hồ Viết Vinh Captures Nature’s Stillness In Abstraction

Architect Hồ Viết Chính. | Source: Bobby Vũ

Lotus Gallery x Vietcetera

“Within each individual resides a multitude of ‘seeds.’ The challenge lies in nurturing the right seeds so they can flourish and reveal themselves,” Architect Hồ Viết Vinh shared this insightful metaphor during a recent conversation with Vietcetera. Undoubtedly, unique talents and inclinations are hidden within every person; the ones we choose to cultivate ultimately shape our lives.

For architect Hồ Viết Vinh, architecture and painting are the “good seeds.” Nearly 30 years as an architect and eight years wielding the painter’s brush, he has come closer to his aspiration - harmonizing with nature through art.

He recalls moments of running into deep forests, listening to the sound of wind rustling through leaves, the murmur of streams, the sky... Sometimes, he would be lost in contemplation amidst the dense mangrove forests, sitting down to admire the imprints of time deeply. It is from these tranquil and introspective experiences that architectural marvels and captivating artworks found their genesis.

On the eve of his exhibition “In Motion,” taking place from September 1st to September 10th at the Audi Charging Lounge, Vietcetera had the opportunity to talk with Hồ Viết Vinh, delving deeper into the world of art and his nature-themed abstract artworks.

Why would an experienced architect of nearly three decades curate a solo exhibition using a brush?

Although my profession is architecture, I have a fervent passion for painting. Even during my time at architecture school, the traditions of painting and sculpture were interwoven into our education, with my lecturers imparted a wealth of artistic inspiration that lingered long after.

In 2015, I was invited to partake in the creation of the Lê Bá Đảng Artist Museum in Huế. I found myself ignited with an added zeal for painting through my engagement with his art. This ardor has propelled me beyond my self-imposed limitations, compelling me to wield the brush and encapsulate the emotions that surge within. This journey is as much about exploration as my desire for self-expression. Although my plunge into painting might be somewhat belated, I’ve accumulated experiences and been further ignited by the wisdom and inspiration of those who have paved the way.

The artworks unveiled in this exhibition have been birthed through various stages, yet they share a common language. These creations encapsulate the essence of my perception, forged by emotion and tranquility. Viewers will encounter a sense of tranquility as they engage with these paintings. Despite the vibrant strokes and the deep, muted palette, a comforting warmth exists in the darkness. Each artwork carries its narrative, beckoning the audience to listen.

Source: Bobby Vũ

I firmly hold that the pursuit halts only when your heart finds tranquility. When I gaze upon nature, that very tranquility finds its reflection in the canvas. And that, indeed, speaks volumes of profound significance.

Why do the artworks create a peaceful feeling, yet the exhibition is named ‘In Motion’?

From my perspective, nature is an endless stream flowing through space and time. Much like other movements, this flow has moments of smoothness but also times of turmoil and twists. Its essence transforms over time, mirroring how human emotions change. These emotional states also reflect a part of nature; the images perceived by the six senses reflect that reality.

However, in my view, these reflections fall short of fully capturing nature’s genuine authenticity. Therefore, the abstraction of nature is my way of expressing its essence through my perception. Often, this desire seems unattainable due to the transient nature of the phenomena, occurring rapidly like a fleeting gust of wind sweeping through a forest. As one reaches out to grasp that brief movement, the wind has already moved on. I also can’t depict the forest vibrating because of that fleeting breeze.

The movement is too rapid for me to grasp. Thus, my method involves translating these movements into abstractions, which are then transcribed onto my canvases. This approach, characterized by the conception of nature, encapsulates all emotions through a representational medium that enables others to comprehend it. While a cursory glance might not readily reveal it, we sense its presence through our consciousness.

Viewers can still see fields, moonlit nights, or a river’s flow; they still perceive the surging current, but it differs from reality. It’s recreated through the artist’s consciousness and then through the viewer’s consciousness, not just through sight but all senses. In this way, those observing the paintings can even sense the sounds emanating from the artworks and witness the collisions of motion.

So, does this require a different approach to your painting process?

I’m someone who enjoys spending time outdoors. For example, if I want to paint a forest, I have to actually go to that forest and sit there, or maybe make several visits. During these visits, I usually sit amidst the trees, listening to the sounds around me: the wind rustling, birds calling, the stream flowing, leaves brushing against each other. I pay attention to even the slightest sounds, realizing how they come together to create a natural symphony. And what’s interesting is that this symphony of nature, in its tones and rhythms, is never the same.

This motion triggers a unique emotion within me. Using brushstrokes, I translate these sounds and the movement’s energy from the forest onto my canvas. When I quietly observe till the point that I immerse myself, eventually, that emotion starts to emerge.

And do you reach for the brush when your emotions are overflowing?

When I paint, I work at a brisk pace. The larger painting (made up of three panels) showcased in this “In Motion” exhibition was completed within a single day. I call it speed painting. I don’t redo lines or colors, nor do I wait and revise them repeatedly. When emotions surge, I need to seize and convey them as swiftly as possible. If they are left for too long, the emotions fade away.

I opt for acrylic paint, a fast-drying medium, specifically for this reason. Also, I only use the wet-on-wet technique to blend colors and promptly create surface effects to harmonize and forge a color palette that isn’t preplanned. This approach also mirrors how I replicate the organic flow in the real world – quick and serendipitous, akin to the ebb and flow of natural shifts.

Viewers can perceive the resonance and rhythm of nature in my works. There are moments of gentleness, and there are moments of urgency; times when it’s intricate and times when it’s deep, depending on the emotions I experience while painting. There are instances where I don’t control my brush and let it find its path on the canvas. It truly is a means of immersing oneself in nature to capture an emotion.

Does this also require a different way of understanding from the viewers?

I seek emotions in movement rather than waiting or imagining a scene. All my works portray their actual surroundings.

For instance, consider the U Minh Thượng forest. I had a profound connection with that mangrove forest before painting it. Beneath the U Minh Thượng forest lies a beautiful memory. While others might see an ordinary forest, it holds a hidden legend for me.

When I depict something seemingly ordinary, I aim to infuse it with depth, a touch of legend, and a spiritual essence. This way, viewers can connect with the same emotions when they look at the artwork.

I also prefer not to assign titles to my paintings. I want viewers to recreate the emotions using their creativity and experiences spontaneously. They might see a marsh or a flooded area, notice the interplay of light, and sense the captured feelings.

Everyone has the right to reinterpret. If their reinterpretation aligns with mine, it’s empathy; if it’s different, it’s uniqueness. I highly value uniqueness because it can add various layers to a single piece. It continues to evolve instead of being confined to a fixed theme.

What’s the actual feeling when facing a canvas and trying to express the sensation of being in a forest?

There are two distinct feelings I aim to capture. Firstly, I want to convey the raw emotion I experience in the moment. I can only paint when my feelings are intense. Otherwise, I might sketch or photograph the scene to capture its essence.

My paintings aren’t strictly representational. They blend colors, contrasts of light and shadow, spaces and silences. Even when I portray a rice field, it’s more about the transition from day to night, the interplay of light and darkness, than a mere field at dusk.

I paint what I feel, capturing my perceptions. However, it’s sometimes challenging to control. I might push beyond my current emotions for more profound creativity. This is evident in my techniques, like splashing paint or making swift strokes, letting the brush move freely to express my intent.

Source: Bobby Vũ

If a painting doesn’t evoke these feelings, I consider it unfinished. I’d pause, research, and revisit it when my emotions peak. If the painting remains incomplete, it lacks depth, hovering between landscape and abstraction.

I break through all landscapes to reach the realm of abstraction.

Do you think about ‘spirituality’ in your architectural work, and how does this translate into your painting?

To me, spirituality means finding stillness. This stillness connects me deeply with my surroundings. When the mind is calm, it can sense all the movements of the external world. Picture a tranquil lake; only when relaxed, does it accurately mirror its surroundings. When there are ripples, everything becomes distorted and fragmented, and we can’t grasp the whole picture. Much like that lake, our mind sees and hears more when it’s peaceful.

Without this inner calm, I don’t believe I can do my best, whether it's architecture, painting, or daily life. During moments of stillness, my pictures gain depth. In such moments of design, my architecture achieves coherence inside and out. The outcome speaks from its core.

Maintaining this spiritual stillness, or keeping one’s mind steady amidst external changes, is essential. Only then do I truly comprehend and resonate with a place’s spirit.

Which space inspires your painting the most?

I’m a precise and disciplined painter. I don’t paint on a passing emotion, but only when inspired. I might paint from dawn until late at night, even continuing into the next day. I never stop halfway; I don’t want to interrupt the flow of my feelings or break their continuity.

The space that inspires me most is the “Maison de Corail” or “Coral House,” a design of my own. Completing this project took four years and originated from my fascination with the mangrove tree—an adored and intriguing species. It thrives in flood-prone areas and has a form resembling that of an ancient tree. The leaves share a shade with the willow tree, and its rough bark offers a unique texture. My house overlooks such a mangrove forest. I feel strongly connected with these trees like they are close friends. I can relate to them and even converse with them.

How does practicing painting differ from practicing architecture?

I’m engaged in architecture and painting simultaneously, enabling me to express and convey my narrative. Yet, when you observe the architecture I design, you might sense the same emotions as when you view my paintings. Both are aligned with nature. I don’t favor one over the other, whether it’s painting or architecture. They serve as outlets to express my soul. Whenever and wherever circumstances allow, I can immerse myself in either.

If we reflect on art history, many painters were also architects, mathematicians, or philosophers. I believe the essence of our world is holistic. Each individual holds a range of potential. It’s about nurturing the potential to allow it to manifest. It’s not that one person leans towards engineering and another towards fine arts. All possess these potentials; it depends on which they choose to nurture.

Creativity could become limited if we were to classify architecture and painting using modern categories. In comparison to a painter, an architect designing a project often must navigate numerous compromises with stakeholders, managers, financial limitations, technicalities, and market demands. These aspects can sometimes constrain an architect’s free spirit.

In painting, the artist faces only the canvas and their creativity. Regardless of the medium—architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry, or engineering—the ultimate aim of invention is to resonate with people. All art forms are akin, aiming to present the viewer with a masterpiece.

Returning to the raw, primal essence without distinctions, we all are creators at our core.

The idea of a ‘seed’ and its growth is intriguing. Have you ever put aside any internal ‘seeds’ while creating?

In today’s competitive world, multitasking isn’t as feasible as before. It requires specialized expertise in specific areas. I chose to pursue architecture and painting simultaneously because they complement each other. When I paint, it helps me architect an overall sensation. I want to maintain the initial emotion when a building is finished, like when I create a painting.

I don’t venture into sculpture as it demands distinct skills from architecture or painting. My crafting approach aims to convey my intended message, sometimes beyond its immediate purpose. I retain such ideas for my architectural ventures.

You’ve chosen not to name your pieces in your exhibition, allowing them to be open to interpretation. How can visitors connect more deeply with them?

Artworks can communicate without words. This collection reflects abstract interpretations of ever-changing nature. By not naming them, I hope viewers find their meanings. Their experiences and insights into nature might unveil layers I haven’t explored.

Source: Bobby Vũ.

I don’t want to confine my artwork to titles or brief descriptions. I want my work to inspire ongoing creativity, not remain “finished” when I sign or display it. Lotus Gallery introduced an excellent concept. Visitors can leave anonymous comments, sharing their thoughts as they view the artwork.

For me, a compelling piece prompts the viewer to pause. In that moment, they reflect and ponder its essence. It’s natural for them to overlook specific details or feel indifferent to them potentially.

What’s vital is finding resonance in some of an artist’s works. If someone profoundly connects with even one piece, that’s enough. They don’t need to understand or resonate with every detail. I’d be delighted if viewers became fond of a few elements rather than all 18 exhibited this time. I don’t expect every audience member to appreciate or love every one of my works.

Is there a unique guide to help attendees connect more deeply with the displayed artworks this time?

In this exhibit, attendees can explore the artworks from various angles without a fixed path. I encourage visitors to move naturally within the space, pausing to appreciate pieces that resonate with them.

I believe in the power of intuition. It often guides us accurately, while our usual thought patterns might keep us within past experiences. If we let intuition lead, it reveals what truly resonates.

No amount of contemplation will make it resonate if you aren’t intuitively drawn to a piece. Even if it does, it might not genuinely enrich your experience. Relax, let your guard down, and take your time with details that captivate you. If none do, it’s alright to move on.

‘In Motion’ is a solo showcase by Architect Hồ Viết Vinh. It’s a collaboration between Lotus Gallery and Audi Vietnam, with support from Vietcetera and Saigon Cider. The launch is set for 18:30 on September 1, 2023, at the Audi Charging Lounge (6B Tôn Đức Thắng, Bến Nghé, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City), running until September 10, 2023. The display welcomes visitors daily from 09:00 to 18:00, with free admission.