Kiki and Coco

Hanoi-based painter expresses love, sadness and passion through his more than 300 dog paintings

How did you become an artist? Where did you study? Are you self-taught?

Before I became a dog-painting artist and before I can express my art on oil, pastel, acrylic and Vietnamese traditional lacquer, I went to China to study calligraphy and explore the Chinese traditional painting techniques. After that I lived in Australia for four years to work and study. I also like many young artists’ works, like installation art, video art, street art, performance art, etc., as long as they are producing their art with passion. I came back to Vietnam in 2013, which was when I started to collaborate with other artists on art projects. Until 2015, I had to create my own artwork and express myself through pieces that I painted of dogs using a wide range of art materials and techniques. In all of my projects, I do study and research, however, there are many things that I realized I have to do on my own, independently.

Dogs are not common subjects in Vietnamese art; they are usually seen as either food or used for security purposes, so why did you choose dogs as the focus of your work?

I don’t think that dogs are only seen as food or security in Vietnamese culture because for a long time it was a part of our folk culture. In the Dao culture, an ethnic group residing in Vietnam, China and Laos, dogs are seen as a holy animal. There are many legends relating to the worshipping of dogs, but the dog idolatry culture in Vietnam was more evident through paintings, wood and rock sculptures. These sculptures are found in front of temples and pagodas, images of dogs are also engraved into wood and ceramic objects—these images project very kind and human-friendly messages. I have been doing Four Ban Ho (Caine King) for my solo exhibition this year.

During the Nguyen Dynasty, Gia Long King raised four Phu Quoc dogs. They protected and took care of Gia Long King. After they died, the King granted them as his four precious generals, who protected him in the war. After seeing how smart and loyal they are, the French decided to preserve the Phu Quoc dog breed.

From all the stories I’ve heard, dogs are very important to a lot of us here in Vietnam, they aren’t only kind but also very sweet. I see loyalty, selflessness in every dog I’ve raised. I can share so many stories about this, but the most important thing for me is that I take good care of them and they are kind to me in return.

My decision to use dogs as the main subject of my artwork in 2015 was due to a personal experience. However, I started to incorporate images of dogs into my paintings since my student years. My ex- wife and I raised our two dogs, Kiki and Coco, from 2005 to 2015. We treated them as our children and we had a beautiful time raising Kiki and Coco together. After getting a divorce, I spent a year living and wondering about how I can come back to them. I wonder what is left of me? That was the biggest question that I had to answer myself. Then I found my own way, my own answer. That was when I knew Kiki and Coco had to be featured in the art project I was working on.

Who are the dogs in your paintings? Tell us about them.

Nearly 400 of my artworks are mostly about me, expressing my daily emotions like sorrow, happiness, loneliness, in love, hatred, peace… KiKi and Coco inspired me to draw more dog paintings. I draw dogs with inspirational stories of people. Sometimes, I take inspiration from the folk culture like the Buddha, the Fairy… sometimes I pick up my friends’ stories and sometimes I make observations of my beloved ones to put in my artworks. When I put myself in the position of a dog, I grow to love and appreciate the stories behind my paintings even more…I think of dogs as human beings. Just a short story relating to them already makes me so emotional and can’t help but thinking about them. I do not choose what I draw, but I just know that I am the happiest when I draw dogs because I have had many emotions, tears and loneliness while working on the pieces. I silently work on them by myself, listening and following my daily emotions as it gives me inspiration for my projects.

Many people told me to follow other art styles like hyper-realistic, expressionism or pop art. I don’t mind the art style I am currently following, I think it is more important that I let my emotions inspire my artworks and I get to personally control how I want my work to be. I also want to share the new vision that I have for myself through my unique paintings of dogs. Moreover, I care about the value of dogs in artworks and how dog idolatry is expressed under different perspectives.

What are people’s reactions to your dog paintings?

This is a very interesting question because I wonder this myself. I don’t really know what the audience think about my artwork and whether they like it or not, but I am sure that there will be a moment of enjoyment or curiosity for them.

After the group and solo exhibitions, I made new friends who enjoy art and like to collect paintings. They also shared their stories with me. When I am drawing, I forget about my surroundings. I am very happy when I get to think and paint, as time passes, my passion for art becomes richer every day.

Images Provided by Bui Hoang Duong

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