French painter has eye for Vietnam's beauty

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  Jean Cabane's paintings on do (poonah) paper. Photo: Jean Cabane

Evergreen rice fields, friendly people, and a bucolic lifestyle in a village near Hoi An have inspired Frenchman Jean Cabane to paint the images he sees around him.

The 63-year-old, who came to the country six years ago, has a Vietnamese wife and considers this his second homeland.

He used to be a teacher in France. When he was about to retire in 2005, he says, he had the opportunity to volunteer at the French department at the University of Da Nang, a chance he had been waiting for.

"I am from the generation that was very active for peace in Vietnam during the years of the American War," he says.

"I still remember the big demonstrations against the war and I supported Vietnamese people in Paris.

"I had great respect and deep admiration for the man affectionately called "˜Uncle Ho.' So I really wanted to meet these people."

Jean Cabane
During his years as a volunteer-teacher in Da Nang, a romantic encounter decided the course of his life: he married a Vietnamese woman and decided to live here for the rest of his life. He and his wife live in Cam Thanh Village.

After being inspired to depict the beauty of his adopted homeland, Cabane discovered some unusual local materials that he loves to use in his art.

He used to paint regularly in France.

"I practiced different techniques on various media like oil painting, acrylic, pastel, watercolor, drawing, and etching, but I like techniques that use paper as a medium," he says.

"When I arrived in Vietnam, I was interested in a kind of paper called "˜do', or poonah paper, that has for long been used for traditional Dong Ho Paintings.

"I have also discovered Duong O ink made from bamboo leaves, ash, and charcoal soaked in rice wash in Duong O Village.

"They are simple materials; I would say humble materials. But this is what interests me."

These simple materials are now the only things that Cabane uses to re-create the peaceful countryside around him.

"There is no material that can better depict the beauty of Vietnamese people and landscapes than "˜do' paper, Duong O ink, and bamboo brushes.

"I also get more inspiration when using them to paint."

Farmers working in rice fields, street vendors, and romantic riverbanks are a popular theme running through his works.

"I love this city which is the best place I have ever lived in. Though my Vietnamese is not so good, I find there are few barriers between me and the local people."

Since 2009 he has been exhibiting his works at the Ami Gallery, which is a beautiful Chinese style house on Nguyen Thai Hoc Street in Hoi An.

"At the beginning of my stay in Da Nang, I had the chance to meet a Vietnamese painter, who unfortunately died too early.

"The painter, Tu Duy, quickly became a friend and in February 2007 invited me to exhibit with another French artist at the La Gai Gallery he had in Hoi An. Then in 2008 I had the opportunity to rent this beautiful exhibition space to open Ami Gallery and since then we have been able to hold exhibitions and shows by many international artists from Vietnam, France, Germany, and the Netherlands."

Talking about Cabane's Vietnam landscape paintings, Florence Morali, a professor at the School of Fine Arts in Toulon, France, says: "Over the last few years, Jean has been making beautiful portrayals of Vietnam where everything is a blend of earth and sky. One is struck by Jean's capacity to show us the essence of these landscapes.

"Indeed, these paintings speak of us by making us reflect upon another experience of the place we find ourselves in.

"The generosity of this painter has superbly prefigured the gracious hospitality of Vietnam."

In March this year, Cabane showcased 30 works at an exhibition titled "Landscapes, Colors Reflecting Culture" organized by the French Cultural Center in Hue.

He has been invited by Hanoi painters to participate in a collective exhibition at the Gallery of the Association of Fine Arts in Hanoi in November 2013.

Cabane says: "It will be a very exciting project for me to take my first steps in the capital."

Charity works

He says he enjoys almost every local food and travels a lot with his wife. And they travel not just to look for new sketches for his paintings.

Cabane is working with several charities to mobilize support for healthcare projects for the poor in this region. He is also a member of the Association of Victims of Agent Orange in Da Nang.

"In France, I have always been active in the social field," he says. "I am a member of a humanitarian organization, "˜La Goutte d'Eau,' whose activities are mainly focused on donating medical and surgical equipment [to health facilities] in central Vietnam (Quang Nam, Da Nang, Hue, Quang Tri).

"Our organization sponsors an orphanage in Hue and members of the association are to sponsor children in poor families. Our goal is to help families pay school fees.

"We are helping a young woman from Quang Tri who needs cardiac surgery. She is a widow with three children. We organized a fundraiser to pay for the hospitalization."

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