The Lake series

Following the "Far In the North" series, "The Lake" are the most recent pieces that I’ve been working on, comprising paintings of the surfaces of lakes in front of communal houses in the Northern region. Unlike the previous series, this time I’ve tried to isolate my objects from space, time and other identifying characteristics.

According to ancient Vietnamese architectural concepts, lakes, or Shui (Water) has a close connection with Feng-shui philosophy. A small pond, a lake, a stream or a river in front of a pagoda or a communal house, the latter silhouetting on and rooting its existence in the former, is a common sight. When working on this series, I intended not to give clarity to the surrounding landscape, context and architecture. Instead, I would only draw the basic architecturally structural sketches through what is traditionally called a vertical axis in Vietnamese language. On the top of each vertical structures along the axis, be it a pagoda or a communal house, I’d picture its corresponding floor plan. As for the central architecture below, I would just paint it in the most basic structural format, i.e. cross section, floor plan, or elevation.

Below each of these, I would present a different lake, with the silhouette of the pagoda all year round, just like the Feng-shui element I mentioned above. What attracts me even more is to observe the surfaces of the lakes and the surrounding elements in different shades as the seasons come and go, and landscapes change.

When you put yourself in a context, what would be central in your observations? In a Sky and Earth context, you would only see the Sky and the Earth. Similarly, you would only see the landscape, or the surface of the lake, if you put yourself in that exact context. With all the things in your mind, your observations of the external world still just belong to that external world. At that moment in time, apart from what you are aware of, all the rest that exist are not necessarily what they seem to be. You will see nonexistence in everything, and everything carries nonexistence. It’s a kind of koan for the question each person would ask himself when putting himself in the nature to be conscious of it.

Starting with the series "Vietnam Landscape", then "Far In The North", and now "The Lake", I’ve gone through a process of observing from existence to nonexistence: from a symbolic object to the structural role of a city, to spiritual and religious places like a pagoda or a communal house, and then to the final point of the nihility of lake surfaces. Everything is like part of a journey back to nonexistence, to the ultimate of the nature and physical objects.

On the surfaces of the lakes, I see smoky waves, breezes, mist and humidity. I see desertedness and the ultimate in the quietness of the dark. The feelings you have in that moment may be even more important than what you actually know. It can be an end, but can also be a beginning that I aspire to see in each balanced status between the nature, human beings and landscapes.

Therefore, the focus lies inside you. Once you’ve seen it, all the rest will seem meaningless...

Hanoi ,24 June 2015

Hà Mạnh Thắng