Vietnamese pop-art artist Trần Trung Lĩnh has recently been working as a storyboard artist in the film industry. Inspired by the current struggles of Hồ Chí Minh City against the coronavirus pandemic, Lĩnh, 44, has painted several pictures showing the city's beauty, kindness and tolerance in such a profoundly difficult time. Diễm My spoke to Lĩnh about his life and work.
Inner Sanctum: Through your paintings, we see a different Trần Trung Lĩnh who is gentle, sensitive and closer to life. Has the pandemic changed your outlook?
When there was no coronavirus, people were busy and hurrying to make their living. The outbreak is spreading, and life is more difficult but it has given people time to think about each other.
I have put my familiar rough and fierce themed paintings aside and found inspiration from acts of goodness and the beautiful gestures of my social brothers, friends and online strangers — those who are fighting for the safety of Sài Gòn (former name of HCM City) and giving a hand to help others overcome this health crisis.
I think it is because human relations and love feature in my paintings that they look warm and approachable.
In fact, people and their acts have already showed love. I just brought it to my canvas boards. To me, people who are quietly helping others are heroes. I want to paint to honour them, and to know that life is not always cruel, even in adversity.
I draw to bring me closer to the poor and the hardships of people and to see love spreading in this most miserable time.
Inner Sanctum: How many paintings have you done during social distancing?
I have completed more than 20. The digital works took less time than the normal ones. In the daytime I do some other work, while spending the whole night to paint.
It is moving to think that out there are so many people just wandering the streets; my friends and relatives were driving around to deliver relief goods while I was at home doing nothing. It was then that I decided to draw.
Inner Sanctum: Which painting(s) do you love the most?
It is the one with a grandmother holding her grandson on the Vàm Cống Ferry. I saw a photo of them a long time ago but forgot it. One day, I suddenly remembered, and rushed to paint them. The photo (sorry, I have not found the photographer) has no relationship with the pandemic but it has obsessed me in a most lovely way.
The orphaned kid depends on his grandmother. They lean on each other to live, selling lottery tickets as hawkers. Their lives are hard but they keep smiling.
Their smiles dispel the obstacles that they face every day. They are living in such difficulties but believe in and love life, so why should I worry and complain?
Their positivity and spirit helps me a lot. They comfort me and make me believe that the troubles will soon be over.
Inner Sanctum: Drawing poor people, you highlight their optimistic spirit and faith. Is that your rule of painting or a truth of life?
I have seen negativity, confusion and anxiety. But anyway, we should have a positive view of the future so that we can overcome this disaster.
Darkness overshadows your mind then your actions are strongly affected.
Let’s laugh, encourage each other, and look further to see that sweet things are around us despite the hardness.
Inner Sanctum: No artist wants miserable things to happen in life for them to paint. But if there was no coronavirus outbreak, you might not have such impressive works such as ‘Kind-Hearted Sài Gòn’ and ‘Decent Living’, right?
If it was not me, it would be someone else. Anyone who has chosen a career with a paintbrush and canvas would do it.
Broken-heart stories will make us feel stronger and push to fight with our own weapons of paintbrushes, pens and instruments. I fight for myself and also fight to encourage others to join this ‘battle’.
People’s poverty and misery are not unfamiliar to me. I know them clearly. And when the pandemic started, I embraced them in my paintings. Without the coronavirus, I would still also draw, write and do something about these two problems. In my movie scripts there have been no luxury and enjoyment scenes ever.
My drawings this time are to express the hurt inside me, which has really choked me up.
Inner Sanctum: After more than 20 years living in HCM City, how has it changed in your eyes? What has it brought to and taken from you?
HCM City nurtured me since I was an empty-handed student. After graduation, I got married, built up relationship with friends and social brothers and sisters, which are among many things the city has given me these past two decades.
HCM City helped my dreams come true. When I was small, I wished to become a painter; to work in the movie industry; to save the children; to have a chance of playing rock on stage…
Now, I am painter Lĩnh who has written some movie scripts.
I am a co-founder of band Psychotramps 13’s For the Kids Fund, which specialises in supporting children living in mountainous areas. I organise the annual Rock'n'Share Show to collect money for the fund.
I have a great wife and three wonderful kids, and many other good things.
HCM City has made deep impression on me: small lanes, mornings when I sit with a cup of coffee, the afternoon traffic jam, sudden rains, the call of streets vendors… I grew up with such things.
The only thing that the city took from me is time, which I have to accept.
Inner Sanctum: Will you continue painting about people’s love and relationship amid the pandemic in the future?
Only when I lose my inspiration, when I can’t feel anything and when my heart has hardened to witnessing miserable people in need, and when I can’t help people anymore, will I stop drawing.
For my next plan, my SiLart Studio will produce products such as handbags with these paintings. They will be sold to raise fund for underprivileged people.
Recently, director Charlie Nguyễn (a Vietnamese-American director, screenwriter and producer) suggested I sell my digital paintings as NFTs (non-fungible tokens) for the fund.
Yes, this is the coming work I have to do. VNS
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