Calm, endless seas reflect a cold moon and bleak skies in the paintings of Bao Vuong. The French-Vietnamese artist recreates the perilous seaward journey his family was forced to risk decades ago. Each painting aches with tranquility and intrigue, depicting a voyage into the unknown on the path to a better life. Their destination is hidden from sight behind the nighttime horizons, but so is the point of departure behind them. Despite a yawning unknown, there’s comfort to be found.
Bao Vuong 是一名越南裔法国籍画家，他再现了几十年前与家人被迫踏上的那段充满艰难险阻的航程。画面上，总是一望无际的海面，以及天空中一轮冷月，带来暗淡阴郁的氛围，其中的静谧和神秘令人神伤。仿佛为观众讲述一艘客船，为了抵达幸福的彼岸，在汪洋中徐徐前进，驶入未知。船的目的地被无边暗夜淹没，始发地早已远远地消失在地平线。然而，除了那令人压抑的未知，Bao 还希望观众从中获得慰藉。
Vuong is a 43-year-old painter born in the southern Vietnamese city of Vinh Long. At one years old, his family fled the country as the north claimed victory in the American War. His father, who fought in the southern army, feared being thrown into a reeducation camp, so like many others, they escaped by sea. It’s estimated that nearly 800,000 Vietnamese boat people survived the journey, while hundreds of thousands more didn’t make it.
His family hid in the country for six months before finally setting out under the cover of darkness. Vuong says pirates attacked their group three times, robbing them and raping the women before they finally reached the shores of Malaysia. But they were turned away by the coast guard and sent back out to sea without supplies or water. It was only thanks to rain that they survived before being rescued by another ship. They ended up in Indonesia and were eventually accepted by France as refugees.
如今 43 岁的 Bao 出生于越南南部城市永隆。他还在娘胎里的时候，美国与友军南越在越战中失败。一岁时，他全家逃离了故乡。他的父亲曾是一名为南越效力的将军，父亲担心战败后会被关入改造营。因此和许多人一样，父亲带着家人从海上逃离越南。据估计，约有八十万越南人成功乘船抵达了其他国家、另有几十万人在途中丧命。
过了半年隐姓埋名的隐蔽生活后，Bao 一家人趁着夜色驶离故土。他回忆一行人途中曾三次遭受海盗袭击，匪徒不但劫走了他们的财物，还强奸了结伴同行的女性。一波三折，他们终于抵达了马来西亚海岸。可当地海岸巡逻拒绝他们上岸，只好又重返海面，此时的他们早已弹尽粮绝。往后更为痛苦的日子里，幸好天公作美，雨水使他们不至于渴死。有一天，Bao 等人终于被一艘货船搭救。他们成功到达印度尼西亚，最后以难民身份进入法国。
“My mother didn’t tell me any of this until I was 23 when my family was back in Vietnam for a holiday,” Vuong relates. “I became obsessed with the idea of representing the refugees’ story. The story of my mother. My story.”
To reclaim these tales of heartbreak and survival, he started The Crossing series in 2017. The collection of lampblack oceans in the dead of night captures the dreadful experience they were forsaken to. He evokes the feeling of an impenetrable darkness, one that piles onto the grief of these displaced people and their constant fear of perishing at sea.
2017 年，Bao 开始了《The Crossing》（横渡）系列绘画。系列中的每一幅作品，都是一望无际的海面，黑压压一片，使人喘不过气，带观众联想当年令人揪心的经历，感受那无尽的黑暗之中，流离失所的苦楚以及对丧命海底的忧惧。
Most of his paintings are created with a singular color. The varying thickness of the paint and textures that Vuong works with create a luminosity and shape. Thinner layers of paint in the sky give the effect of moonlight. Below, thick layers are carved with palette knives to form the waves. The gobs of paint can take months or even years to completely dry, and the details etched atop them create texture for ambient light to reflect off. The appearance of the paintings change depending on the position of the light source, the color of the light, and the angle viewers see it from. “These are paintings that are always changing; ‘elusive’ I would almost say,” Vuong explains.
Bao 的大多数作品都以单一颜色绘就。画中景物的亮度与质感，往往通过颜料的厚度变化、或是画笔走向来呈现。月光下泛起的亮光由浅色颜料涂抹，再用调色刀雕磨海上的波涛。这些颜料可能需要数月甚至数年的时间才能完全风干。Bao 用小刀在颜料上刻画出细节，让光线在作品上体现出更好的层次。因此，画面的视觉效果随光源位置、光源颜色以及观众位置的改变而发生变化。Bao 说：“画面时时刻刻都在产生着变化，会因环境而变得难以琢磨，就像难民的原行一样，充满未知。”
Despite the horrifying journey he strives to recount, there’s a silver lining. Vuong believes the sea is more than a place of loss and sadness. He grew up in towns by the sea and says the ocean comforts him. His parents even tell him “water” was his first word. Working on the paintings is also meditative, and as he paints thousands of small waves line by line, he often finds himself in a kind of trance.
曾经那段不寒而栗的经历，也让 Bao 从中收获。他相信，除却失去与痛苦，大海还有着更深远的意义。他从小海边小镇长大，大海给他带来了慰藉。就连他的父母也曾告诉 Bao：他孩提时期学会念的第一个词语便是“大海”。他认为创作也是沉思的过程。就在成千上万道浪羽被画下的同时，自己早已沉浸其中了。
Vuong says his family struggled for decades in this unspoken darkness, weighed down by an unexpressed pain. While their brutal experiences are central to the paintings, his art captures more than just trauma—it’s about triumphing over it: “My work is an allegory about overcoming darkness in general,” he explains. “I think that we all have very dark days in our life, and we all have a light inside us to follow. This light helps us to keep going, to keep crossing the ocean of life. Reflections of light on my paint strokes represent shimmers of hope that give birth to a survival instinct, echoing the promise for a better world.”
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Contributor: Mike Steyels
Chinese Translation: Alice Zhang
供稿人: Mike Steyels
英译中: Alice Zhang