Saigon Sculpture Symposium 2008

The second last stop of my art travels of 2008 was in Ho Chi Minh City After the symposium in Russia I flew to Bankok to attend the opening of an exhibit at the National Art Gallery of Thailand featuring the work of Peerapong Doungkaew and from there on to Viet Nam. In Ho Chi Minh City I prepared a Sculpture for the Saigon Sculpture Symposium that would take place a month later. This event was a little different than most, it was an intellectual symposium. The participants would not work as usual, rather, we made presentations to the group and the public and took turns attending the exhibit of our works at the Ho Chi Minh Gallery of Fine Art. I brought “Ice, Wood and Fire” with me, it had been collected by the Fine Art Museum of Penza with the understanding that it would be exhibited at this event and then returned to Russia. I wanted to make another sculpture for the show but it would have been too large to bring from home so that’s why I came a month early, to create my second sculpture for this event.

I worked in the joint studio of several friends, Nam, Chien, Son, Hung, Ahn and Minh. While I was working on my piece there was artwork going on all around me. A crew of about 8 assistants work in the studio so there is always lots going on. It’s fascinating.

Three stages of finishing, The first does not have the definition of the face completed, the second is the first coat of oil which was slightly tinted to almost match the color of the wood and therefore not highlight defects in the wood and the third a darker one to give it a rich look. I used gold foil on the hat to represent sunshine and on the baby to make the representation that babies are the sunshine of family.

The Studio

At the time one of the projects being worked on in the studio was a commission for some universities that wanted 3d examples of the human form for their art departments, who better than some of the masters such as Michelangelo and Rodan for these examples. Chien was working on a clay model for a sculpture he would do for an upcoming exhibit, it was talking about dreaming.

This is an embossed aluminum sculpture that was in progress while I worked on my sculpture, it’s about four feet tall. It is a very tricky process that involves stretching the metal out to make the form and the details. It must be done little by ever so little as aluminum will easily crack if stretched too much at one time.

One step of the process is defining the outlines. Thom is doing that with a punch on a hard surface here.

Another is the actual stretching of the metal. Prof. Minh is doing that with a hammer, the material is placed on sand to allow the metal move. Some pieces are very large and require sheets to be fused together which they polish out afterward to make the finished mural seamless.



Here a fibreglass form is being made that will be used to pull a mold from, I think this one is part of a series of religious pieces judging from what appears to be drapery.






A large clay Buddha is being sculpted, it will also be used to make a fibreglass mold from.

So, there was lots going on at the studio, hard not to get distracted. I was really tickled to work there and to have the chance to do a second piece for the exhibit at the upcoming symposium.

A maquette of a sculpture of Ho Chi Minh, “Uncle Ho” I visited the actual sculpture in progress, from Granite. It was about 40ft tall I would guess, it’s the work of Tran Viet Hung.

Too many interesting things to imagine in this studio, very inspiring.

The Symposium
I flew home after completing my sculpture and returned a month later for the symposium

A day at the park. One day our group were treated to a tour of some studios and a visit to Van Thanh Sculpture Park. It’s a big park with shops and restaurants and activity all over the place. It’s an excellent example of what a sculpture park can become for a community. Not only an attraction but a core venue for events and activities to be presented in. Weddings, workshops, concerts etc.




Pottery instruction for children.

Pottery instruction for children.

Families enjoying the park

Painting lessons

An exhibit of terecotta sculpture, I think these are the work of Tran Viet Hung.

Rolled metal chair by Hoang Minh.

Folded stainless steel bird by Vinh Do

Dual representational, is it a face or a torso, Miss Phuong.

I was surprised to see this one in the park, it was at the studio last month when I was working on my sculpture.

Title unknown, Bui Hai Son

Title unknown, Tran Van Nam

Title unknown, On

Artist/title unkonwn

Title unknown, On

Artist/title unkonwn

Nguyen Tan Cuong

The Exhibit

A group exhibit of sculptures by symposium participants was staged at the Saigon Fine Arts Gallery. Pageantry is never lacking at arts events in Viet Nam, printed banners and signs, music and speeches at the opening and closing ceremonies. Brochures were printed for visitors and we were all presented with a commemorative package including photographs that related to our own experience during the symposium. Actually that is pretty much standard at all international symposia with the exception of Bergen Rocks but we are working on it.

Prof. Pham Moui officially opened the symposium by cutting the ribbon.

The opening ceremony was very nice and well attended. There were 9 of us in the symposium and for the first time in its history it included foreign sculptors, Noell El Farro from Philippines, Prof Choi from Korea and myself.

Many other artists attended, it is a well-known event. Stephen Turner from Canada and Paul Haggins from Ireland came over to celebrate art with us.

The day after the opening a press conference was held. I didn’t keep any of the articles as they were written in Vietnamese, it would have been neat to have copies in my scrap book.

I was honored to exhibit with an elite group of artists. I always joke that I hold a DMA in fine art as I have fallen in with such a group who all seem to have a list of letters behind their name. Many have achieved the level of Dr. My self appointed title stands for Doesn’t Mean Anything, I earned it at the School of Hard Knocks.


Each of us made a presentation, the theme was using technology in the creation of art works. Mine was titled Planes, Trains and Automobiles and I put forth the logic that in this time with the internet and modern transportation we could now easily make connections with artists around the world and have them converge at one place to create international arts events and exhibitions. This symposium was an example of that and so is Bergen Rocks. Who’d think there would be a sculpture park populated with the works of artists from around the globe in a patch of trees in the middle of farming country in Western Canada? Modern technology has made it possible.

The Art Show

Prof. Bui Hai Son MFA

Bui Hai Son, head of the sculpture dept of Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts University. This sculpture comprises of 2 forms representing rice, an important element of life in Viet Nam. In fact, when you are called for a meal they will say “an com” meaning “eat rice” as, typically, rice is served at every meal.

Nguyen Anh On BFA

On’s pieces were explorations of ductility, made from fibreglass.

Prof. Tran Thanh Nam MFA

Nam is the head of the sculpture dept of Ho Chi Minh University of Architecture.

This sculpture is titled “Mua” which translates to “rain”. A scooter driving in the rain, which there is a lot of in Viet Nam, with a man and wife riding. The wife is snuggled up to the man’s back to stay out of the rain, a sight that is very common when it’s raining and demonstrates that a man protects his wife.




Nam’s second sculpture is an illustration of the stress, strain and tension in modern life. A hand on each side of the sculpture is pressing in on the man’s head distorting it terribly. We all give our head a good squeeze from time to time, you can imagine this guy’s stress.

Phan Phoung BFA

Phuong exhibited three pieces. This one is a plexiglass representation of a pregnant lady. The plexiglass is cut in narrow bands so that the sheet can become 3D and illustrate that the lady has a baby in her belly.

Phoung’s second piece, from granite is a figure that I imagine to be sitting against a wall, maybe on a sidewalk, trying to stay warm. Sometimes art is in the eye of the beholder.




Phoung’s third piece was a family of bugs made from black granite, I thought this one was awesome.

Tran Viet Hung BFA

Hung exhibited four sculptures. his first is a stylized lower torso. The black stones represtent the oceans, water. The brown stones the earth and the white ones air. All three embodied in the torso demonstrate that we are closely tied to these elements of life.

This one is a kinetic sculpture, it includes movement. The cut out figures move in the wind and through the use of color the illusion of depth is created. I wish I had taken a video when he demonstrated the movement, it was cool.


Number three is speaking to freeedom and happiness, dragon flies in the air. Also a kinetic sculpture if exhibited out of doors.



His fourth piece is talking about electronics in our modern society. The circle of stones represents the earth and the five large stones are the five continents. All of the continents are connected with wire, some bent to demonstrate radio waves. The whole world is connected by radio waves and electricity now. Ironically, I was taking a call on my cell phone when he clicked the shutter of the digital camera.

Professor Ok-Yeung Choi-Korea MFA

Professor of Art at Kangneung National University, Chairman of Wangsan International Culture and Art Institute and Director of Hasalla Art World. Prof. Choi works in many mediums and is a master with laminated glass.

This sculpture explores similar forms in two materials. Laminated glass which is man made the other made by nature, from a tree. The similarities and the differences are interesting, which one is perfect?

I got to experience some of his larger glass works when I worked at Hasalla Art World a few years later. This is a sculpture that explores shape through the medium of laminated glass, a sphere, a cylinder and a 3D rectangle. This sculpture is a huge exercise in control of the medium. To create these without cracks or breakage is incredible. After the hundreds of layers were fused they took several days to cool in the kiln in order to shrink at a controled rate with the kiln being turned down a little each day. If they are allowed to cool to quickly the inside would remain hot while the outside cooled and stabilized. When the inside did cool it would shrink and pull the outside in with it, the whole thing would shatter.

Prof. Noell El Farro-Philippines MFA

Noell is Chairman of The Department of Studio Arts at the College of Arts and also at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. He is known for his work in a category of sculpture refered to as “Archival Art”. This is logical, he holds a Masters Degree in archeology in addition to his degree in fine art and another in education. He is well known for his work in glass, a difficult medium.

This first piece is exact replicas of ancient bones and how they would be stored in the archives of a museum, in a drawer and laid carefully on cotton. One is made from glass, the other from plaster, both fragile materials.




His second piece, title “Vessel” is also made from glass and contains a shadow bone, identifying the ancient origin of the vessel.

Prof. Hoang Tuong Minh MFA


A staple in Minh’s work is a hand print. I didn’t take photos of both sides of this sculpture but suffice it to say there is a corresponding thumb print on the other side, here on the front impressions by four fingers. It creates the illusion that this large stone was placed there by a huge hand.

Vinh Do BFA






At the time of this symposium Do was doing quite a lot of work in stainless steel. This sculpture representing a bird would also wave in the wind if exhibited out doors, another kintetic sculpture.

Morton Burke DMA

I exhibited two sculptures. “Vietnam Family” and “Ice Wood and Fire


Ice, Wood and Fire

This sculpture has had an interesting life, traveled far and wide to find it’s permanent home. Originally it was created as the title piece for an arts festival by the same name that I organized at the museum in my home town. As it is a pioneer museum they felt it wasn’t really the right thing for their collection. I took it home and enjoyed it for three years and then took it on this international tour. It was exhibited in China, Russia and Viet Nam……and collected by the Penza Museum of Fine Art. It’s the first piece I’ve done that’s been exhibited in 3 museums. (China, Russia, and Sundre) I couldn’t be more pleased, I hope I get a chance to visit it some day.

I cut one of the wooden vases I make in two, then inserted a glass form between the two halves and installed a light under the glass. The light enters the glass from below and is redirected out through it’s edges. The glass represents ice, the vase is wood, of course, and the light represents fire.

Giang Son is a professor of music at the university of Ha Noi. She Traveled to Ho Chi Minh City for the opening, pictured here with Phan Phuong.

You’ve seen some photos of the creation process of “Vietnam Family”, there was one feature that was added at the gallery. It was exhibited on a mirror so when you looked down from up close to it it appeared to extend down below the floor for 6 or 7 feet, I thought that was interesting.

The University of Architecture is only a few blocks from the gallery. Every day some of the students in the sculpture program, or a whole class, would come to view the exhibit. I think a majority of Vietnamese youth speak English now so I was able to perform my duty as a docent for them. When the general public came and didn’t speak English all I could do was say hello, ask where the bathroom was or count to ten in Vietnamese for them.





One of my teachers told me that a sculpture is like a baby, you create it and fall in love with it even if it has flaws. I really liked “Viet Nam Family” and was sad to leave it after the symposium.



I didn’t know where “Viet Nam Family” would end up, I suggested that the Fine Art Association raffle it off as a fund raiser. I was pleased to learn that it was collected as a permanent piece of the collection at Van Than Sculpture Park.

A few years later I was married in Viet Nam and surprised again when I learned that one of the choices we had for our wedding pictures was Van Thanh Park. I didn’t say anything to my wife until we got there and then I showed her, I don’t think she’d have believed me were it not for the title plaque at the bottom that had my name on it. That was cute.

Since then it has been moved to an enclosed building where people can go to read a book or have a rest. I’ve been mentioned in a book titled “The Important Sculptors of Viet Nam” it covers art works in Viet Nam going back more than a thousand years. I picked up a copy, I’m not sure what it says about me as it’s written in Vietnamese but it has photos of my public art works over there and some text. My point is that if you are determined, anybody can do art.

Its things like that that have inspired my slogan, I think there is art in all of us just waiting to jump out and there is likely no better example than me. Growing up with an interest in outdoor pursuits and an avid athlete, working in the oil industry and living in an area where cowboy boots and hockey sticks rule. Now look at me, rocking it as an artist!! I believe that with a little instruction and the will to give it a try anyone can make art that is fulfilling and will be enjoyed by others. I hope my good fortune inspires you to give it a try……

                                             FEAR NO ART

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