An artist finds inspiration in an ancient Vietnamese craft

London-born artist Jack Clayton describes himself as “predominately a woodcut printmaker who focuses on experimentation to create unique and eye-catching work.” His latest exhibition, called Saigon Compass, draws on a diverse range of influences, along with Jack’s own traveling experiences.

Woodcut relief printmaking is one of the oldest Vietnamese art forms, and Vietnamese dong ho paintings date back to the 11th century. In woodcut printing, the artist carves a relief image into a block of wood, applies ink, and then presses the woodblock onto a canvas. The process can be automated and made easier with the use of a printing press but Jack creates his artwork the old-fashioned way, before burnishing his finished prints with a wooden spoon.

Hue CitadelThe exhibition touches on both historical and contemporary topics. For example, a rustic depiction of one of the lesser-known entrances to the Citadel in Hue hangs alongside a conceptual celebration of artist Francis Bacon. A full English fry up forms a hollow-eyed, gas-masked figure, whose penetrating gaze embodies that Baconian theme of inhumanity, while retaining a playful joie de vivre.

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The centerpieces of the exhibition, however, are Jack’s large digital prints, which merge the past and present into one image. The most striking is Dong Son Drum (pictured above)dong son drums were first created over 2,500 years ago and were used to depict scenes of daily life, warfare and folklores. Jack’s prints ranges from images of rice paddies in Sapa to Vietnam’s historic events. Inspired by a cracked American War compass, another print displays a bird’s eye view of Ho Chi Minh City, filled with vignettes of life and events from the Gia Dinh era through to the liberation of Saigon.

Saigon CompassAs we move into the digital age, Jack’s artwork reminds us that the medium of print is as vibrant now as it has been for millennia.

Text by Alex Green, Images by Jack Clayton

Saigon Compass is on display at deciBel (79 Phan Ke Binh, D1) until November 11. Jack Clayton’s art can be found at www.jackclaytonart.com