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Introduction to Lê Thành Nhơn

Lê Thành Nhơn was born in the province of Bình Dương, in the southern part of Vietnam, in 1940, and has been living in Melbourne, Australia since 1975. A top graduate of Saigon's School of Fine Arts, Lê Thành Nhơn became internationally known at a very early age, participating in the Paris Biennale in 1963 when he was 23.

Nhơn's creative impulse found its expressions in many media: sculpture, stone carving, ceramics, oil painting, silk painting, watercolour, and lacquer. And he was extremely productive over a long period of time. One of his earliest major works, an eight tonne bronze bust of Phan Bội Châu , considered a part of Huế's UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, was created in 1972 when Nhơn was 32. In Australia, in 1991 Nhơn was commissioned by the Vietnamese Catholic community of Melbourne to create a statue of Mother Mary , cast in bronze, standing two and a half metres high. In 1997 Monash University commissioned Nhơn to create a sculpture titled Joy , two and a half metres high, cast in bronze, which is now gracing the grounds of Monash's Caulfield campus. Recognition of Nhơn's work in Australia is reflected by the fact that one of his works, a 50cm statute of Buddha , cast in bronze, is displayed in a permanent exhibition at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.

Lê Thành Nhơn likes to create works of a very large scale. His bronze bust of Phan Bội Châu is three and a half metres high, his cement fondu Buddha at Huệ Nghiêm Pagoda in Saigon stands four and a half metres high. When he first arrived in Australia in 1975, he completed a seven metre painting The Legend of Giao Chỉ , which was hung on three walls at the East and West Art Gallery in Melbourne. His 1994 painting Yarra River is four metres long and recently, he finished the Four Elements series consisting of four paintings: Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth , each consisting of three panels of two metres by two metres.

In common with other great artists, Nhơn's inspiration seems to have been triggered by an empathy with the human condition, and informed by an unending well-spring of humanistic philosophical thought. His Mother and Child bronze statue, depicting a mother and child being rescued from a sinking boat at sea, is a most touching comment on human fragility and optimism. The mother's face is contorted in a mixture of fear and panic whereas the child, sitting precariously on her mother's lap, wears a calm and peaceful face. Nhơn's idea of the impermanence of life is also reflected in his series of four plaster cast proto-sculptures, titled Sanh, Lão, Bệnh, Tử (Birth, Old Age, Sickness, and Death). Unfortunately these are still yet to be commissioned for casting in bronze.

To my mind, Lê Thành Nhơn's artistic career as a whole is somewhat like a piece of the Great Wall of Beauty. This book can only depict just a tiny part of his work. Nevertheless, it has been put together in a very short time, as a gesture of thanks to Lê Thành Nhơn for the joy his works have given us, lucky to be his friends, when we learnt of his illness.

NGUYỄN HƯNG QUỐC


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