Thursday, 22 August 2013


This painting is from my forthcoming exhibition '365' at Vin in Gallery, 6 Le Van Mien, District 2. The private view is on September 6th, exactly one year since I arrived. The exhibition opens to the public on the first day of my second year. 

If you can come and join the celebrations - you will be very welcome. there will be wine and canapes, a traditional Vietnamese musician and.......... of course........ cake!

I captured this scene on a visit to Ba Chieu Market in District 3. So far, this is my favourite covered market in Saigon because it's not overwhelmingly huge, tight packed or crowded and the gaps between stalls are wide enough for the average westerner to walk through without turning sideways. 

This is a locals market ;not for the tourist. I found all manner of things I had never seen before which reassured me that I really am half way round the globe in a strange and foreign land where none of the rules of home apply. Outside, an elegant and slightly stern looking lady was selling betel leaves wrapped around areca nuts. the older generations like to chew these to enjoy a mild stimulant effect. The addition of white or pink limestone powder can enhance the flavour and stain the teeth an attractive shade of Dracula red!

It was also near the market that I found the Chinese herbalist from whom I bought my precious ginseng stash. Here he is heating the root (straight from his ice box) to slice it into translucent wafer which I can nicely tuck in the corner of my mouth, for 30 minutes,and wait for the pungent  enzymes to slip into my bloodstream. 
I must g back form some of his brain numbing Ginseng wine!

As we walked through the market a colony of bats was pointed out to me - suspended in the rafters of the market roof away from the light of day and directly above a narrow passage where roosters and hens roamed free!

So, back to my painting. I stood in this covered alley adjacent to the market building for a long time watching the people come and go through the shadows and shards of brilliant light that penetrated the patchwork of awnings above. The iridescent glow of this scene was completely captivating to me.

Young women, these days, seem to do all their daily chores with their motorcycle helmets on. Since the wearing of helmets was made law in December 2007, women have, in some cases, forsaken the traditional conical hat. It simply isn't practical to carry a straw hat around on a motorbike and, since the wearing of hats is a necessary protection form the sun, they have taken to wearing their helmets as they go about their business,when out of doors.  Even fishermen's wives can be seen wearing their helmets on the beach when helping to bring in the boats and sort the fish to take to market. 

So, this scene shows those very same young women buying their fruit and vegetables while wearing their helmets.

On the left, a young man is cycling through the market in his designer shorts and tee-shirt. probably picking up some supplies for his grandmother on his way home for lunch.

In the centre, a women walking to collect lunch from her favourite food stall, bowl in hand. She was wearing the most exquisite silk suit that you only see on older women. Her conical hat is protected by a modern polythene cover but she has a traditional silk scarf knotted in each side to secure it in place.

The motorbike, the bicycle and the pedestrian each bearing the symbols of their age and generation. The boy is too young for a motorbike license. The young women must have good jobs to be able to afford smart modern scooters. The older woman wearing all the traditional accoutrements of her generation and probably those of her mother's as well.

The exhibition is on until September 14th at Vin Gallery

Postcard from Vietnam 5

One of the greatest benefits of travelling by train in Vietnam is that it provides an excellent opportunity to view the beautiful landscape at a leisurely pace.  Trains in Europe are designed to get you from one place to another as soon as possible but to journey by rail in Vietnam fulfils the Chinese proverb which says ‘the journey is the reward’

Departing from Ga Saigon (from the French word for railway station – Gare) I was amazed at how close people live, work, play, eat and sleep to the single track that carves a narrow corridor through the tightly packed neighbourhoods of north western Saigon. One more metre to left or right and we would have been travelling through their living rooms, barber shops and bars.

After a while, the scenery opens out and we are in a watery landscape of rice paddies, lakes and small towns. Our train starts to climb to higher ground and the scenery and the light changes. This region reminds me of the Highlands of Scotland in many ways. The hills rise steeply both sides of our train and the lush green of the lowlands has given way to a starker landscape with fewer trees and villages and dusty roads that are less travelled I think. But the best is yet to come.

From the comfort of my sleeper carriage on Vietnam Railways, the landscape gently rolls past the window like a documentary film. In this seemingly idyllic land every view is worth painting and the fields and villages, themselves, seem to have been touched by the artist’s brush. 

If you take the midnight train from Saigon, you will arrive at the coastal town of Nha Trang at dawn. From here the single train track hugs the beautiful coastline which is dotted with romantic islands and purple peninsulas backlit by the rising sun. The views of the East Sea shimmering in the low light of a fresh morning are breath-taking.

On one of my journeys, this hour was marked by the arrival of the breakfast trolley carrying a large bucket of fresh, hard boiled, eggs. These delicious treats are served with a pinch of the ubiquitous chilli salt presented in a little recycled paper wrapper. Mine was part of page of an old train timetable – how apt!

As Vietnam wakes to another day, you can see people tending their gardens and allotments beside the train track. A cowherd takes his cattle and calves to pasture. A lone motorcyclist spins down a country road easily keeping pace with the train. Workers make an early start in the green and gold fields at the coolest time of day. Teams of women, in their conical hats, are gathering in the hay to make haystacks reminiscent of those in Monet’s paintings of rural France in the late 1800s.

Travelling along the single track railway that runs the length of Vietnam is truly one of this country’s hidden delights. It may be slow but I cannot think of any good reason to rush through this fascinating and varied landscape.

Published in OI Vietnam - July 2013 click here

Friday, 16 August 2013

Contemporary art in Saigon

Last night I spoke at a Pecha Kucha event at the Ly Club near the Reunification Palace. It. was quite a swanky event in the garden of a large villa. 

The garden was furnished with modern white furniture and automatically adjusting cantilevered sun shades. My platform was sheet glass laid over an uplit pool. I had better make a good job of this presentation!

My subject was '10 good reasons to buy contemporary art in Vietnam today'

Bui Quang Anh - Tu Do Gallery
According to the Pecha Kucha format each speaker has 20 PowerPoint slides and each slide is shown for 20 seconds. So, I have just over  six and a half minutes to state my case.

Eamonn O'Callaghan - Vin Gallery
The images for my slides were taken from gallery websites of current, recent or upcoming exhibitions in Siagon and, by popular request, here are the details of the artists and galleries.

Do Thi Kim Doan - Lac Hong Gallery

Dang Xuan Hoa - Apricot Gallery

Ignacio De Grado - Vin Gallery

Bui Suoi Hoa - Vin Gallery
Doan Chi Hieu - Vin Gallery
Sandrine Llouquet - Gallery Quynh
Nguyen Thi Ngoc Lan - Vin Gallery

Do Hoang Toang - Gallery Qyunh

Ha Man Thang - Gallery Qyunh
Le Hoang Bich Phuong - San Art

Phuong My with San Art

Bui Tam Thanh - Craig Thomas Gallery

Do Hoang Tuong - Gallery Qyunh

Nguyen The Hung - Craig Thomas Gallery
If you find some work you like, you should subscribe to the gallery's newsletter if they have one. Vin Gallery and Gallery Qyunh certainly do.

50 years of change

I have started working on drawings, watercolours and acrylic paintings of Saigon that will go towards a new book and an exhibition of original work some time in early 2014.

This painting....... not yet finished, tells an interesting story of two great symbols of power and optimism.

In the foreground is the Reunification Palace which replaced the former French colonial Governor's General's residence.

The French invaded Vietnam in 1858 and the building of the palace would have stood as a symbol of their command over South Vietnam. It was completed around 1875. Built in the style of a grand French country residence, it was designed by the French architect of Hong Kong's original City Hall. Befitting its gracious style, it was set in formal gardens and open parkland planted with specimen trees. It was a grand symbol of colonial wealth, influence and power.

After an encounter with a bomb in 1962 it was demolished and rebuilt as a new symbol of the emerging state of Vietnam. After the 'American War' it was renamed the 'Reunification Palace' as a  clear message to the world.

In the background is the new Bitexco Tower with its glittering glass and steel reaching into the sky. This building sends a message about Saigon's readiness for modern global commerce. 

the palace is set amid lovely gardens and has a very human scale. The tower is bedded in concrete and tarmac with busy streets, shops, cafes and bars crowded around its precincts. I like the contrast of these two buildings that span 50 years of turmoil, change and growth in southern Vietnam.