Vietnamese lady & dog 越南老太与她的狗
20cms (W) x 24cms (H)
Oil on Panel
Vietnam is a beguiling country. In a similar way to several other south east Asian countries, it has the capacity to totally intoxicate you with the beauty of its people, landscape and culture; and then shock you by showing you the scars of recent trauma. I wasn't alive during the Khmer Rouge era in Cambodia or the Vietnam war, so outside of what i'd seen in films, had no comprehension of what the impact was. When I first visited Vietnam, it was a relatively sheltered experience and I went on a tour to visit a family. Everyone i'd met up until that point on the trip had provided a perfect view for a tourist of a vibrant, accommodating and positive nation. The family were very friendly, showed us their home and I bought some handmade placemats from them. We took many photos from the area, smiling with the family, photos of their home etc. On the way back to the bus, it was obvious that some people had gotten wind that there was to be a tourist trip so people came to beg from the spend-happy foreigners. I've typically been careful about giving money away to people because of the disruptive effect, but you could see from the people begging that they were all of a similar age, all suffering similar disfigurements and diabilities, that our driver explained were caused as a result of their parents being affected by agent orange and other chemical weapons.
It's the first time i've really seen first hand the long term consequences of a war. Sure, i've seen the violence in movies, but it made me think about the struggles these people and their families would have on a daily basis, which is a horrific reality based on something they had literally zero involvement with.
So when I was trying to paint something to capture my Vietnam experience, I took another look at the pictures we'd taken of this family and I looked at the face of the old lady who had lived through that and seen the horrors during the war and experienced the long tail of their consequences; who had allowed some foreigners to come into their home and photograph them, and posed so graciously for photographs; and I couldn't even begin to unpack the emotions from her expression - which I hadn't acknowledged at the time and wouldn't have had we not seen the desperation of those trying to get money from the bus after the visit.
This is my favourite painting of mine by some distance. I painted it in 2012. I have given away or destroyed every painting of mine before 2012 and all between 2012 and 2016. I will never sell it, and it's always in a prominent place on my walls. In my opinion, I haven't ever before or after been able to capture emotion like in this picture. Interestingly, I've never understood why others have preferred some of my other pictures, but writing this description has made me realise what I see in it that others don't and hopefully this will help explain why I like it so much.