Monday, 11 November 2013

Upcoming Christmas Exhibition

I am taking part in this year's exhibition of 'Small Things' at Vin Gallery; their annual show of smaller works of original art in time for Christmas. 

Published in the May issue of Oi Vietnam, this was my very first magazine column. 
Read the story here

This is still, probably, my favourite postcard and was originally produced to illustrated the Full Moon Festival in my book about Hoi An.

This postcard illustrated my column in the July 2013 issue of Oi Vietnam which tells the story of my first shopping experiences in a local wet market when buying ingredients for a slightly ambitious Vietnamese birthday feast!
I addressed it to Rick Stein, the chef and restauranteur in Padstow, England

Oi Vietnam Magazine

This postcard was published in my book 'A Week in Hoi An' and shows the view of the Cham Islands from An Bang beach on a spring day. This is address to a little friend who likes to visit this beach from time to time.

The story about the magic and mystery of the My Son ruins was published in the June issue of Oi Vietnam Magazine. The memory of this evocative and poignant trip still haunts me.

Oi Vietnam on Facebook

If you take the late overnight sleeper train from Saigon to Da Nang, you are awoken by the breakfast trolley at dawn just before the train arrives in Nha Trang. 

From this point on the train hugs the coastline and you can watch the sun rise over the many islands scattered along the coast of the East Sea. Oi Vietnam Magazine, August 2013 issue.

This is addressed to my friend Robert who loves travelling by train.

Addressed to the late Antoni Gaudi, architect of Barcelona, this postcard illustrates some of the lovely shop houses of Saigon. One day these shops will be as fashionable to live in as their counterparts in Singapore.

Oi Vietnam Magazine - September 2013
Vietnam skies are amazingly beautiful. the colours are off the scale for depth of hue and luminosity. because the land is so flat along Vietnam's coastal, delta and southern regions, you can see weather coming for miles and miles. If you stand on Thu Thiem Bridge on a changeable day, you can see rain storms happening in different districts of the city and feel the rush of wind that preceeds every shower that is going to drench you! Read the article

I addressed this postcard to my sister who loves changeable weather and lives under her own big sky in Lincolnshire in England.

So, pop along to Vin Gallery on Friday evening to see these little gems in the flesh. They are beautifully framed in mahogany with double glass and floating mount. they would make a lovely present to a friend or even to yourself!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Dragons and typhoons

The Quang Trieu Dragon

This morning I am sitting at my table beside an open window in my studio and that, in itself, is a minor miracle. Let me tell you why.

Five days ago our wonderful girl Friday, Miss Phuong, delivered the drawing board I commissioned last week. It is solid hardwood and is designed to carry the largest sheet of handmade watercolour paper. Since I started concentrating on Watercolour painting, most pieces have been, kind-of, A4 - A3 sized and many are no bigger than a postcard. To progress my work, I bought some A1 sheets of watercolour paper while in Singapore and I have been bursting to start work on them ever since I returned.

Four days ago I prepared the first sheet; first wetting under the shower and, once soaked, laying it down on the virgin board. Next I took a sponge to wet lengths of brown gummed tape with which to fix it to the wood. After that I waited about  6 hours for it to dry, shrink and become taut on the board.  I knew exactly what my first large work would be so I brought it straight to the studio and started work.

The subject is the writhing dragon and his companion carp framed in a shallow pool in the forecourt of the Quang Trieu (pronounced Wong Chuh) Cantonese Assembly Hall on Tran Phu Street in Hoi An. 

This piece of sculpture is full of colour and vigour which reflects the dragons mythical powers to control flow of water, floods and typhoons. The carp is endowed with the traits of Endeavour, Courage and Accomplishment because of its struggles to leap waterfalls. It's Cantonese name also means Abundance and Affluence. These two creatures come from the same mythical clan and the Chinese say that if a carp can leap through the falls known as the Dragon Gate on the Yi River  it can be transformed into a dragon and will fly up into the heavens.

It's rainy season here in Central Vietnam and this year it is accompanied by a parade of typhoons that form in the western pacific, swing through the Philippines and make landfall in Vietnam before dying out over Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. A recent one put the power out for 60 hours and closed all the resorts along the beautiful, 15 mile China Beach that runs south from Da Nang.

Three days ago, we noticed, on the weather chart, a Super Typhoon approaching the Philippines that was already being labelled the biggest typhoon to hit the Philippines since records began. Whilst not wanting to panic, we were watching its track closely and started to make plans to survive the storm of the century.

Meanwhile, I was making progress with my painting and was completely absorbed in my work. The dragon was taking shape and even though it is only two dimensional, I felt with each brush stroke I was almost sculpting this creature on the page. I have visited the dragon many times and always marvel at the artistry and craftsmanship that brought the dragon to life out of concrete and broken china pieces. Some think the dragon is a bit kitch - to me it is a work of genius.

Two days ago I have to take some time out to help my housemate to get in food supplies, beer,  rice, an extra torch, bread for the freezer and more.......and make a plan to survive the storm. Robert was here , alone, during the last storm and spent a miserable three days without electricity, proper food supplies and any companion. So, with his experience we feel sure we have covered all our needs and can face whatever the weather may bring. 

Since the last storm we have also acquired a puppy who wandered into our lives off the street three weeks ago.  While we are waiting for her new family to pick her up, we are trying to keep up with her voracious appetite and although she is not normally allowed in the house, we can't leave her out in a Super typhoon to fend for herself. So Robert's patent, DIY kennel made from two cardboard boxes, 12" black duct tape and a green bin liner was brought in to the garage so that puppy would be safe and dry.

back in the studio, my painting was progressing and I was beginning to feel that I had almost breathed life into this dragon and his carp companion and was now concentrating on the decorative and symbolic details of the temple roof.

Yesterday the storm has driven through the Philippines leaving a trail of destruction and was now approaching across the South China Sea. It was originally forecast to hit Vietnam just north of Da Nang but now they are saying it has swung south and will head straight for Hoi An !!!!!!!!!  The little town leaps into action. There were queues outside every hardwear shack, shop and stall. The air was filled with the sound of hammering, stapling, sawing and occasional public announcements on mobile tannoys. The local army reserves were called in to deliver sandbags and advise people on the best ways to secure their properties.  

The Vietnamese system of neighbourhood guardians, local People's Party reps and family connections swings into action and is working at peak efficiency. We couldn't find any white baguettes anywhere yesterday and were struggling to find out which bakery would have them today and at what time. By chance, we popped in to see the lady who runs our scooter hire / beauty parlour and she was just about to go to collect baguettes herself. We chatted for a while, I booked a pedicure for next week, Robert accepted her fond advances for a few moments and the next thing we were following her across town to her favourite (family?) bakery and were presented with a  little bag of 5 warm baguettes for free!   That's how Vietnam works!

My painting was nearly finished. I spent a few hours working on the reflections in the little pond, putting some extra typhoon-style swirls into the dragon's chariot of bubbling clouds.  To finish, I shared a few thoughts and stories either side of the temple then signed and stamped my chops in red in at the bottom right hand corner.

It suddenly occurred to me that it was a strange coincidence that I should have worked on a painting of the master of water, flood and typhoon at the same time as a super typhoon was brewing in the Pacific and then travelling towards us. 

We went out for a few beers and met some travelers from Kent who feared they may be stuck in Hoi An for the duration of the typhoon. We offered some advice about getting in beers, baguettes and pate and eventually came home to begin the long confinement that was surely imminent.  

When we came home, I took the painting off the board made a cup of green tea and contemplated my endeavours for a while. I then prepared another piece of paper and taped it to the board ready to start a new piece during the storm.

Last night We waited and we waited. I prepared a dinner of prawns in a yellow curry and coconut cream sauce with aubergine slices and fresh noodles from the market. We watched 'Life of Brian, in our studio/cinema and drank some wine.

Robert checked the track of the typhoon (scheduled to strike after midnight) to see that it had suddenly changed track and veered north. It was now due to land closer to Hanoi up in the north but might even die out over the sea before it gets there

This morning soft rain is falling outside my open window and the people of Hoi An are going about their business in a normal, Sunday kind-of way. By some chance, the storm has passed us by. Instead of the devastation and huge loss of life that the Philippines have suffered in the swirling tentacles of Super typhoon Haiyan, we will live to love and laugh another day; our homes intact. 

There are no new typhoons on the tropical storm tracker yet, but Haiyan is unlikely this will be our last

There is more to this life than bread, blood and clay and I wonder if my little homage to the Imperial, Cantonese, five clawed dragon of Quang Trieu had anything to do with our delivery from the typhoon and the miracle of this bright, rainy Sunday morning?

Friday, 1 November 2013

Typhoon Alley

Here we go again. Typhoon Krosa is due to arrive in Hoi An some time on Sunday night. This forecast chart predicts 39-73mph winds which is somewhat less than the previous typhoon on October 15th (below)

Typhoon Nari came thundering through at 95 mph and caused untold damage and many deaths. Electricity was cut for 60 hours and there was no water supply either.

Nari damage in Da Nang (15 miles away)
People in Hoi An did an amazing job of trimming trees, clearing streets of debris, soil and sand and opening their businesses after the flood. The Vietnamese work tirelessly to put everything back in place after each of these massive natural disasters. 

I only heard about the last one (Nari) from the comfortable distance of Singapore but I will be watching the arrival of Krosa hour by hour if I can. I wish I could go out to the beach to see it coming but I guess that's not a very safe thing to do!

I will let you know!