I walked along the hall at Banyan Tree Lăng Cô, sat down and looked through the glass to the lotus pond in the middle of the house and the one sculpted out of green metal. The receptionist welcomed us with a branch of orchid, a cup of hot tea and some green bean cakes. My friend was so fascinated at both of the lotus ponds, he could not stay still. He kept walking around to take photographs of them.
Located in a unique crescent bay framed by a three-kilometre beach, the place offered more than just privacy and exclusivity. It introduced us also to the most distinctive features of Vietnam, such as conical hats, incense and lotus.
In our hill villa, every room was decorated with a lacquer painting of lotus. That reminded me of my painting teacher, an admirable figure to many art connoisseurs, artists and public thanks to her unique style in lotus paintings. Knowing that the lotus is a long-time artistic admiration to many artists due to its gracefulness and elegance, it is easy to understand why this flower is our national symbol.
Making paintings on lotus is not easy. As Edgar Degas once said: “Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.” Especially so when working with lacquer, as the objects should be coated with the treated, dyed and dried sap of Toxicodendron vernicifluum or related trees, applied in several coats to a base, and later inlaid with shell and other materials, or carved, as well as dusted with gold and given other further decorative treatments.
In Buddhism, it is believed that the white lotus means purity of the mind and spirit. The blue is wisdom and logic. The red is love and compassion. The purple speaks of awakening. The golden refers to all achievement of all enlightenment. And the pink tells the history and legends of Buddha.
Everywhere the Buddha walked, a lotus flower bloomed. I guess one of the reasons that the lotus inspired many artists is the fact that it reminds us of rising above all defilements and sufferings of life, ‘like a lotus flower that grows out of the mud and blossoms above the muddy water’, according to the Buddhist teaching.
Although the flowers look very delicate, the petals stay substantial. The strong stems of flowers and leaves transform from deep within mud to high up in the air, like how we humans lead our life, despite sad and disappointing moments.
The lotus is rendered realistically in the metal sculpture and lacquer paintings at Laguna Lăng Cô. They capture light through movement and illusion. Learning to observe the lotus is not easy.
Learning to understand its meaning is even harder. But the more you grasp the nature, significance and meaning of your subject, the more you can make it ‘live’ in your artworks.
Listening to the music, having small talk with a friend and contemplating the lotus lacquer, I told myself there are no short cuts to authenticating … but a great deal of time, patience and study.