Art on cobblestones
People usually label stones as soulless, but Nguyen Viet Cong Thanh (30 years old, of A Luoi district), instead, carved his passionate soul, his love for art and for his homeland on cobblestone. Thanh has turned cobblestone into a creative material, as well as a source of income.

Thanh gives simple cobblestones a new life

Born in A Luoi town, with a bachelor degree in Art from Hue University of Arts in hand, Thanh, like many others, had many ambitions for his future. However, the burden of “bread-and-butter” turned his dream into drawing paintings according to customers’ demand: making murals and framed paintings, as well as decorating for cafes, schools, families ... upon request.

“You have to be able to put food on the table before making art of your own. My only dream is to make a living by painting,” said Thanh.

Recalling 5 years ago, Thanh only considered painting on cobblestone as a game in his spare time. During that time, he was eager to explore and learn how to apply various materials in painting. With a special aesthetic sense, in the eyes of an artist such as Thanh, the vast woodland of A Luoi is a rich material store for painting.

He wanders through the woods from morning to afternoon, collecting pine needles, pinecones, and picking up cobblestones to satisfy his passion for “playing” with his paintbrush. 

Meticulousness in every painting

At the end of 2020, during the time affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Thanh’s cobblestone paintings unexpectedly got the support of many customers via social networks from all over the country, from South to North, including Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Hai Phong…

Stepping through the murmuring streams in the hot summer sun, Thanh rolled up his pants and waded from one bank to the other to find the cobbles he liked, taking glances around the thousands of cobblestones scattered around the streams. Even still, after a whole working day, he could find only a few that were satisfactory.

The scattered fragments of the forest, from a few to tens of centimeters in size, polished by the wind and the flowing water of the A Luoi streams, have become a free "canvas" for the artist of the highlands.

“I didn’t have any experience at first, so the rough ones I used to choose were difficult to paint on and even damaged the brush. I kept failing many times because the rough cobblestones just couldn't get the colors right. But now I know how to pick them specifically based on the shape that best suits my idea. Sometimes, even the rough ones can convey my feelings most naturally," Thanh said, holding a cobblestone in his hand.

He proceeded to wash the mud layer off the cobblestones he brought back from the streams and thoroughly dried them. Since then, Thanh's little room has been filled with cobblestones. 

Through the magic of lines and colors, Thanh transformed bare cobblestones into vivid works of art: one has a school of fish swimming in the water; the other has golden butterflies spreading their vibrant wings as though they had just emerged from their cocoon, brimmed with life; another has a chameleon that seems to be running through A Luoi old forest, or painting of Saola (spindle horn) playing by the stream on another cobblestone, etc...

The themes of the motherland’s natural landscapes and drawings of family members are also favored by many of Thanh's customers of all ages. Because each stone has a unique shape, and a different painting, the work is often one-of-a-kind and never reproduced.

Thanh is not the only cobblestone painter, but he is one of the few people persistent enough to pursue the artistic expression of 2D and 3D painting. Painting in 3D on the cobblestones, in particular, requires more stages, observation, and imagination from the painter than painting on a canvas or a wall. Regardless, Thanh still expresses the language of painting quite well in his works.

Each 2D and 3D animal painting takes him about 30 minutes. More detailed drawings can require from four hours to several days to complete. While Thanh's mother was worried that her son's choice to study art would make his income inconsistent and difficult, he has sold hundreds of his works during the year, with prices ranging from VND 250,000 to VND 500,000/product.

The more challenging, unique products that require more attention to detail can cost millions for a single cobblestone. Income from the “side job” has brought the mountain town boy a stable source of income, which is the foundation for Thanh to look forward to his unfinished dreams. 

“In the coming times, I will spend more time making paintings on cobblestones. I hope to soon be able to hold a gallery that will showcase both my cobblestone works and my other paintings; and at the same time, open a cobblestone painting class for A Luoi kids,” Thanh said in excitement.

He also shared his plans to collaborate with several homestays and tours to conduct experiential classes painting on cobblestone from A Nor, A Lin, and Pâr Le streams for tourists visiting his hometown.

Story and photos: Le Hoa
Hue News

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