WHAT IS NATURAL SON TA LACQUER?

"...The Rhus succedanea tree is indigenous to Northern Vietnam, and its sap provides the raw material for lacquer. Historically, the local lacquer paint was used both for prosaic purposes  as a means of preserving wooden objects and furnishings from humidity and damage  as well as for creating special decorative or religious objects, sometimes enhanced with gilding or mother-of-pearl inlay. In the 1930s, following the founding of the École des Beaux-Arts d'Indochine by the French colonial government, Vietnamese artists began to experiment with using lacquer painted onto flat wooden panels as a means of modern, creative expression. One particularly important innovation at this time was a method of applying layers of lacquer paint and then rubbing back the surface with sandpaper and then burnishing it with stone. In this rubbed paint or son mai technique, the under layers of lacquer would reappear through the process of rubbing back, while the final surface would be smooth and shiny. This technique creates one of the paradoxes of Vietnamese-style lacquer art, evident in the lacquer panels of Specula: the simultaneous appearance of translucent depth and of mirror-like sheen..."  

by Phoebe Scott, Ph.D

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Temperamental to its environment, lacquer remains at the mercy of humidity, heat, time, and space. This can be demonstrated by the fact that depending on the percentage of natural humidity on a given day or place, the resin may or may not set. Even when it does, the colors may vary greatly. The artist is powerless to control completely the outcome of each image and must allow chance to play its part. To me son ta in Specula serves not only as a metaphor of trace and fossilization, but also as a direct and active witness to the immediate environment.

The resin itself, the color of dark amber or molasses, comes from the earth. As a result, the finished painting is the accumulation of time, environmental factors, state of mind and reflections of a memory that symbiotically form a single meditative image. To the touch, the surface may seem smooth and flat like a mirror, but the rich textures and deep colors beneath the surface evoke the gaze of the minds eye.

Phi Phi Oanh

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