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Bửu Chỉ, a rebel by nature

Trịnh Công Sơn, translated by Vân Mai

Bửu Chỉ 1970

During the most brutal years of the war ravaging the South, if in music I was composing songs that spoke against the war and yearned for peace, then in painting Bửu Chỉ was probably the sole artist who dwelled profusely on war and peace in his work. At that time, he was renowned for his small sized sketches using black ink iron pen on paper. His work was featured on magazines abroad and succeeded in enticing a large audience.

Throughout the student’s antiwar movement in Huế, Bửu Chỉ and I were almost always side by side. Together we sang during the sleepless nights of protest as well as in the days of marching, and most often we sang to rally the crowd gathered at the Student Union’s coffeehouse.

Bửu Chỉ, by nature is a rebel. He not only rebels against himself but also against conventional social order. This is the premise for his relentless commitment during wartime, an attitude that he now carries over to his paintings. For Bửu Chỉ, painting is life and life itself is painting. In the past it was so, and in the present it is more so. Especially in these times. Life has gone by. Time has gone by. Gone by but not lost. On the contrary, in him has emerged a nascent yet more insightful perspective about a life hopelessly without redemption in each and everyone’s fate. I have the impression that he strives deeper and deeper into the predicament of an unavoidable choice that seals his fate, a choice that seems to be decided very early on in his youthful days, days when struggle and prison were looked upon lightly as fleeting passions in life.

Do not ask Bửu Chỉ to be what he is not. What we ask for or seek in somebody is what that person is, and not what we are and worst of all not what everyone else is. Much less, not what the person will be. Let freedom yet again drives all commitment or non-commitment, all broad minded or lackluster, all intellect or silent darkness. Let life be wide open or shut close.

Struggle does not end. The surface of ponds and lakes, of rivers and oceans may seem serene, but on the bottom torments incessantly stir as distinct entities. This is the most profound passion of the soul who wants to awaken itself constantly, who never ceases to be aware, so that life knows no other sleep than the sleep of thunder.

Tranh Bửu Chỉ
Album Tranh Bửu Chỉ, 2003

What I have scribbled so far seems to portray Bửu Chỉ. And it is not possible to reveal all about a person in his portrait, even if the subject is a mere pebble, a small gravel by the roadside.

Bửu Chỉ had traveled the path of tangible struggle in the old times. And now leisurely and in stride, he meditates, walks, stands, sleeps, snores through life while engaging himself in a new struggle: the surreal struggle that has no boundaries, that needs not possess forms, but obviously which ultimate frontier would be the realization of one’s tranquil inner nature.

To describe someone correctly is great. To describe the person incorrectly could be even greater. Because life is fluid, and the wrong of today may become the right of tomorrow.

Bửu Chỉ is pretty heavy. Perhaps quite heavy. But under what circumstances could one judge the heaviness or lightness of this world?

Judgement is but only an excuse for the new paintings of Bửu Chỉ to leap playfully into a novel indulgence : the infinite indulgence into the realm of death or more lightly, into the realm of impermanence.

T.C.S

Translated by Vân Mai

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