Le Hoang Nhan has dedicated himself to creating these 'bark pictures' for over 15 years. His artworks evoke emotions, provoke contemplation, and invite viewers on a journey through the typical landscapes and narratives of the southwestern region.
The southwestern region of Viet Nam is home to vast melaleuca forests with numerous medical and economic benefits. The papery bark of the tree is usually discarded or used as firewood, but a man in Dong Hung B Commune in Kien Giang Province discovered its hidden value, utilising it as a medium to make captivating pictures that vividly depict his homeland.
Le Hoang Nhan has dedicated himself to creating these 'bark pictures' for over 15 years. His dedication and talent have gained recognition beyond his village and country. Many of the collages have travelled to international destinations, finding homes in Russia, Japan, India, and beyond.
Nhan’s artworks transcend mere visuals. They evoke emotions, provoke contemplation, and invite viewers on a journey through the typical landscapes and narratives of the southwestern region.
His pictures were recognised as typical cottage industrial products of the region by the Kien Giang Department of Industry and Trade last year, and granted a 3-star OCOP (One Commune, One Product) Certificate by the Provincial People's Committee.
Surprisingly, Nhan has not received any formal training in fine art, and the 41-year-old agricultural engineer discovered his gift when he was at secondary school. He used to actively participate in mural and poster painting, which provided him with a basic understanding of artistic composition.
He first came across tree bark collages in 2004, seeing them on social networks and displayed at local exhibitions. From there, Nhan relied on his own research and exploration, utilising his innate talent and abilities to create lively pictures from the papery bark.
The bark of many melaleucas plant is distinctive, often made up of multiple thin layers of paper-like cork separated by thin fibrous layers. In some species, this papery bark can grow up to five centimetres thick before peeling. It is a fantastic medium for this type of landscape collages.
The picturesque landscapes of his homeland are the central theme in Nhan's works. Most of them beautifully depict typical images of southwestern Viet Nam like rustic cottages idyllically shaded by rows of coconut trees on the banks of the flowing river, lush paperbark forests, village pathways, verdant rice fields, as well as many other renowned landmarks of Kien Giang Province.
“In general, when it comes to melaleuca bark, the colour range is not extensive, revolving around three to four colours including white, light yellow, dark yellow, and green. However, when working with natural colours and incorporating textured elements, one can still create a complete picture without difficulty,” he told Viet Nam News.
To prepare for the material, Nhan had to visit numerous melaleuca forests in Kien Giang, including U Minh Thuong National Park, to find the bark of mature and long-standing trees.
To create a beautiful and soulful collage, besides sketching the outlines, meticulous attention must be given to selecting and separating layers of the bark, considering their colours, and arranging them appropriately within the composition.
Bark colours include off-white, light and dark brown, and near black. The name melaleuca comes from the Greek words melas (black) and leukos (white), and the creator must choose the bark carefully to accurately depict vibrant and lifelike scenery to touch the viewer's soul.
In particular, instead of using regular glue that could potentially alter the natural colours of the material over time, the artist has opted for a special adhesive commonly used in construction.
“It ensures great durability. Now, when the picture is finished, it can be freely wiped with water because it is waterproof,” he said.
Nhan has made over 2,000 pictures that have been delivered to customers both at home and abroad. In recent years, the demand for his pictures has surpassed the supply, leading him to primarily work on orders to fulfil the needs of his clients.
According to To Thanh Hung, director of the Dong Hanh Tourism Company based in Kien Giang, one of Nhan’s regular customers, the company has ordered approximately 100 pictures as gifts to their customers, partners, and friends both at home and overseas.
“Upon receiving the bark pictures as gifts, our customers and partners have expressed strong appreciation as the art embodies the distinctive characteristics of the southwestern region," he said.
Nhan has ventured into incorporating other discarded materials into his creative process, such as dried banana stems, coconut fibres, and old denim fabric.
He has also embarked on a new artistic endeavour, using fire to burn intricate pictures on the material, even enabling the creation of attractive portraits.
"I have received increasing orders from various organisations and individuals for decoration in homes, offices, or as gifts both at and abroad, including Japan, Australia, the US, Canada, and as far as Cuba."
“Numerous institutions have also selected the bark pictures as gifts for visiting ambassadors in Kien Giang. This brings me immense joy, encouragement, and motivation to persist in my commitment to this art form," Nhan said. "I am enthusiastic about sharing this expertise with anyone who is eager to learn."