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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Choé (Nguyen Hai Chi) (Photo taken 1n 1993)

1943: Born in An Giang Province, Vietnam
2003: Died in Virginia, USA
Choé was an internationally acclaimed cartoonist, an artist who created and sold various types of artworks such as oil-on-canvas paintings, silk paintings, water-colors on rice-paper, etc. He was also a writer, poet and music composer.

I first met Choé in late 1970 in Bao Den Newspaper Office, Saigon. At that time, he drew cartoons for a few newspapers in Saigon. Only a few years later, he became a world famous cartoonist.

My wife and I opened Tu Do Gallery in June 24th, 1989 and purchased 20 silk paintings by Choé in July. Those were the very first collection of our art gallery.

GOING TO MARKET - Water-color on silk - 42cm x 60cm (1994)

Choé’s silk paintings are very different from those created by other Southern artists, most of whom attended Gia Dinh Art Institute. These artists closely follow the traditional Le Van De’s style, which is notable for its evocative feeling of delicacy and daydreaming. Yet, as a self-taught artist coming from a cartoon background, Choé’s style is a combination of bold, liberal strokes and lavish colors. Many have criticized that Choé’s silk paintings deviate from the traditional Vietnamese style. Choé completely agreed with this comment. He wanted to invent his own style. As a result, his silk paintings have become “bestsellers” at Tu Do Gallery. Later, Choé incorporated the same unrestrained style of his silk paintings into his watercolors on rice papers. These, too, have been much sought after by art collectors.

TWO FRIENDS - Oil on canvas - 100cm x 100cm (1990)

Choé began painting with oil on canvas in mid 1960s. One of his first oil paintings was “Highland Scenery,” finished in 1965. This was a gift to his lover, who later became his lifelong wife. His very first painting after returning from a reeducation camp in 1985 was a “Portrait” of her.

In late 1989, he brought “Mother Hen and Her Duckling Children,”created the same year, to Tu Do Gallery. It was his first oil painting to enter our gallery, and one of Choé’s signature works, with his usual strong, liberal brushstrokes. Since then, his oil paintings have been displayed permanently at Tu Do Gallery and become one of art collectors’ favorites.

MOTHER HEN AND HER DUCKLING CHILDREN - Oil on canvas - 1980 (in Collection of Matsukawa Gallery, Tokyo)

Choé held several national and international exhibitions. Later in his life, he created many themed collections of paintings, such as:

-          South Vietnamese Artists and Writers: 37 portraits and cartoons. This collection was exhibited in Katrineholm, Sweeden, in 1989, at the National Press Club, Washington DC, in 1990, and at the Capitol Hill in Washington DC, USA, in 1992.
(Currently these portraits are in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Le Ha Vinh, USA).

-          US Presidents: 41 oil-on-canvas paintings.
(Currently in the collection of Ms. Nancy Pham, USA).

-          The Women of My Country: 10 watercolor cartoons. He painted this collection for “Asian Cartoons,” an Asian art exhibition held in Tokyo, Japan, in 1995. Ten artists from ten different Asian countries were invited to participate in this exhibition. (Currently these cartoons are in the collection of Choé’s family).

CYCLO - Cartoon - 1995 (in collection of Artist's Family)

-          Important Vietnamese Figures: 57 oil-on-canvas paintings, 50cm x 65cm, exhibited in HCMC, Vietnam, in 1995. (Currently in collection of Mr. Han Duc Minh, HCMC, Vietnam).

-          Ho Xuan Huong’ Poems: 27 oil-on-canvas paintings, 77cm x 77cm, exhibited in HCMC, Vietnam, in 1996. (Currently in collection of Mrs. Vinh Hau, maiden named Phan Thi Thu Mai, HCMC, Vietnam).

-          Nobel Female Laureates: 40 oil-on-canvas paintings, 70cm x 85cm, exhibited in HCMC, Vietnam, in 1996. (Currently in the collection of Mrs. Vinh Hau, maiden named Phan Thi Thu Mai, HCMC., Vietnam).

-          Vision d’Été 1998 (Vision of Summertime 1998): 20 oil-on-canvas paintings. Finished in 1998, when Choé was in France for medical treatment. Exhibited in the City Hall of Savigny Le Temple, France. (Currently in the collection of Choé’s family).
EIFFEL TOWER - Oil on canvas - 61cm x 50cm - 1998 (In collection of Artist's Family)

-          Portraits of Various Artists: 28 oil-on-canvas paintings, created in 2000 and 2001. These were his last works. The collection was exhibited at Tu Do Gallery, HCM city, Vietnam, in 2006.This exhibition included two additional paintings from his earlier years, one oil-on-canvas portrait of Tran Tien, finished in 1993, and one silk painting of Bao Yen, finished in 1990. This collection is currently kept at Tu Do Gallery.

WRITER HO BIEU CHANH - Oil on canvas - 60cm x 60cm (2001)

SONGSTRESS - Water-color on silk - 59cm x 42cm (1990)

-         An exhibition titled “CHOÉ’S ART WORKS was held at Tu Do Gallery in April 2013. The show displayed oil paintings and water-colors on silk and on do papers from the collection of Tu Do (Liberty) Gallery. This special show also included Choé’s two series ofThe Women of My Country” and “Vision d’Été 1998 (Vision of Summertime 1998). These two series, in the collection of the artist’s family, were exhibited abroad but not yet in Vietnam.

Although he had to drop out of school after finishing third grade in order to earn his living as a child by raising ducks and selling ice-cream, Choé developed a great passion for drawing in his early childhood. He would use rice stalks or ice-cream sticks to draw images in the soil. He was particularly interested in funny and humorous aspects of life. He observed that life around him was bitter but never lacked humorous incidents, ones that make you laugh until you cry. So any image or idea rendered by Choé immediately turns into a hilarious joke. Choé only wanted to make people laugh but not to criticize anyone. Therefore he insisted in calling his newspaper comic strips humorous comics instead of satirical cartoons.

Many of Choé’s paintings, influenced by his comic drawing habits, also transform everything into humor.

      Choé created artworks from his sincere heart with a unique style of a talented artist. His works are a great contribution to Vietnamese Fine Arts.
BIRDS - Oil on canvas - 130cm x 220cm (1995) (In collection of Ms. Chia Sok Kheng, Singapore)
NATURE AND LIFE - Oil on canvas - 130cm x 220cm (1995) (In collection of Mr. Chan Le, USA)
ACTOR UT TRA ON - Oil on canvas - 50cm x 55cm (2001)

POET HAN MAC TU - Oil on canvas - 60cm x 60cm (2001)
ALFRED NOBEL - Oil on canvas - 50cm x 70cm (1994)

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