TRAN VAN CAN
A major figure in 20th century Vietnamese art, Tran Van Can is probably the best-known politically engaged artist of the period. He studied at the Indochina School of Fine Arts, then directed by the French sculptor Evariste Jonchère, and graduated in 1936. His meeting with Joseph Inguimberty, one of the College’s pioneers, was crucial to his development.
Wartime events drove him to express his political leanings through his work and publications. A staunch supporter of the separatist cause, he wanted to rid himself of the Western influences that marked his academic career, favouring the emergence of nationalist and socialist art.
His political involvement resonated with the art scene, and alongside Vu Huyen, he penned one of the first books in English exclusively devoted to contemporary Vietnamese painters. He was very influenced in his personal beliefs by Truong Chinh’s essays, published in 1938,”Marxism and Vietnamese culture”, and in 1947 set up propaganda workshops in the provinces of Viet Bac, filling them with wood engravers.
His political stance earned him an appointment as Director of the Vietnam University of Fine Arts from 1954 to 1964 and General Secretary of the Vietnam Association of Fine Arts from 1958 to 1983.
Like Inguimberty, who paradoxically influenced his work after their meeting, the artist was inspired by drawings and watercolours taken from life, which he would then work on afterwards in his studio.
He excelled in all art forms, revealing a talent for wood engraving, oils, lacquerwork (which brought him considerable fame) and silk painting.
It is this paradoxical balance in the artist’s painted and engraved work that made his name. Although he was seeking art that was purely Vietnamese, both traditional and modern, stylistically and thematically his art was actually a synthesis between the colonial and nationalistic periods.
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