Dare to stare at this bold batch of over-sized canvases
While there is no blueprint for when an artist should achieve what might be called “success,” oil painting is not typically a medium where history has thrown up a large number of wunderkinder. Of course there are outliers like Jean-Michel Basquiat who burst onto the stage in their early 20s, but the majority of those we tend to think of as successful artists tend to follow a process of maturation that sees their best work come years, or often decades, after they start pursuing their craft.
Although at 26 years old, Pham Thanh Toan is nearly the age at which the aforementioned Basquiat tragically died, he has long emanated a clear sense of being a prodigy in the making. Even while still a student at the Fine Arts University of Ho Chi Minh City—where he studied traditional lacquer painting during the day while experimenting with oil painting at night—Toan had already taken on the mantle of a professional artist selling his works to local collectors.
With what seems like almost preternatural foresight, Toan immediately began the vigorous pursuit of his career following his graduation from art school in 2017. He and some colleagues rented out a space in the city’s Fine Arts Museum and put on a compelling exhibition of their works without any financial or curatorial help. Toan says, “I said to myself that I needed to work diligently at the beginning of my career so that people would get to know my work and I would have opportunities later. I was quite lucky as I had a number of close friends who were willing to lend a helping hand.
The King And The Monkey – Ong Vua Va Con Khi – 2018 – Oil on canvas_200 x 120 cm
Toan’s King collection comprises a bold batch of primarily over-sized canvases with several of the works themselves being quadriptychs and pentaptychs. The effect of such large paintings, often done in luxuriantly thick layers of imported oils, is immediate and visceral. The planning and ambition required to execute works of such magnitude is nothing short of miraculous for a young artist having his first gallery curated solo exhibition. There is a confidence and skill on display in his new work—a complete departure from his previous two collections—that belies Toan’s relatively tender years.
The works of the King collection represent a daring and iconoclastic entry onto the Vietnamese art stage for such a young artist. Toan is aware of the unique nature of his style and that his paintings may spark diverse reactions in his viewers. He says, “I think there will be many different streams of thought. Some of them will not like this style of paintings since as the meanings are not obvious and some of the compositions could be frightening to some. Still, I hope that they will be generous with me and not focus only on my faults. Everyone has imperfections but the important thing to see is if the author of a creative work has something special about them.”
King, a solo exhibition of paintings by Saigon-based artist Pham Thanh Toan, will be at Craig Thomas Gallery (27(i) Tran Nhat Duat, D1) until August 10.