by Minh Thu
HA NOI — US painter Donald Damask opened an exhibition of 22 paintings on do (poonah) paper, titled Blood, Sweat and Tears, last Friday at the Art Viet Nam Gallery, Ha Noi.
Motivated by the texture of crumbling facades and the colours of the natural world, Damask’s prints explore the intersection between environment, art and time.
During a visit to Ha Noi in 2005, Damask discovered poonah paper – a material unique to Viet Nam, which has been used by artists for centuries.
"I am inspired by environments I have seen during my travels in Asia and Europe that show the beauty of the past and the disintegration of the future," says Damask, "I am drawn to surfaces that have stood the test of time, but have been changed in texture, shape, size, or colour, by the elements of nature. That’s the reason why I was attracted by the unique beauty of poonah paper."
"Today, to my knowledge, only two families remain for whom the creation of this paper remains a viable profession, and they are kept in business almost entirely by the artistic community of Viet Nam," he adds.
Damask’s paintings challenge his audience to go beyond an academic response to his work. By thrusting locust thorns through Tears, Damask is encouraging people to have a visceral, emotional reaction to the painting.
"Not until I visited the exhibition, did I know that tears are so colourful. That the thorns suddenly stop the stream of tears really made an impression on me," remarks Australian student Phoebe Carlton.
"I attached the thorns to the painting as my hope to stop the tears, stop the misery," Damask explains.
The artist also uses colour in a non-traditional way; the different reds in a series of paintings titled Blood were inspired by the shades he encountered in his travels.
"I am truly interested in the nuances that the same colour has depending on the location. For example, the red in Mongolia is different from the red in China," he says. "The different subtleties of the reds are so vast, that they each give a totally different visual message to the viewer."
Most of all, the exhibition is a celebration of his impressions of Ha Noi. Damask was born in 1953, and the war between the US and the Vietnamese left a deep impression on him. His art is an attempt to process his experience, to express his opinion and emotions about war and life.
By capturing segments of colour and texture that have faded or decayed, the artist transforms the ordinary into a series that celebrates the abstract sublime.
"Above all else, Donald’s work discovers the small details from architecture, nature, and landscape that touch the essence of history’s confluence with the modern age, illustrating how disavowing might tacitly reinforce the nature of presence," remarks Suzanne Lecht, art director of the gallery.
The exhibition will run through October 15 at the Art Viet Nam Gallery, Nguyen Khac Nhu Street, Ha Noi. — VNS