Dinh Thong created his first chicken-feather painting right after finishing high-school, over three decades ago. He has dedicated his entire life to the unique art form, but has been unable to advertise his talents properly due to lack of funds.
Born and raised in the ancient city of Hoi An, Vietnamese artisan Dinh Thong has always been fascinated by folk art. He started using chicken feathers as an art medium during his middle school days, to make small souvenirs for his friends. During his mandatory military service, he decided to take his art to a whole new level by using the feathers to create large traditional paintings, and as soon as he returned home Dinh started scouring the local poultry markets for suitable material. At first, sellers let him pick whichever feathers he liked from their chickens, but after word spread that he was using them to create works of art, they assumed he was making a lot of money and began charging him. He was forced to cut his daily expenses so he could afford to buy the unusual art supplies, sometimes leaving his works unfinished for long periods of time due to lack of feathers. To make matters worse, the bird flu epidemic that swept the planet a few years back kept his creations out of art galleries and forced the talented artisan to promote his works by word of mouth alone.
But all these setbacks didn’t stop Dinh Thong from doing what he loved. He continued to work in his messy loft, creating feather paintings that focused on traditional themes like hamlets, street corners, pagodas and portraits. He says long feathers from the wings and tail are perfect for abstract paintings, while short ones are great for still-life, landscapes and portraits. Dinh stores the feathers in plastic bags and spends hours just sorting through them until he finds the ones that best match the painting he is working on. The talented artisan starts by sketching out the details of his artworks on paper then glues the feathers over it to create a unique effect he says cannot be obtained with oil or water colors. The process is fairly straight forward, but requires dexterity, perseverance, diligence and mountains of patience. “It’s meticulous work. I take hours to sort out hundreds of cock feathers and match them to pictures,” Dinh told VietnamNet. “I also try to use several colors of feathers, of which primary dark brown is a major. It takes me at least two days to finish a small size 40 by 60cm picture.”
The detailed feather paintings and the fact that they are created by a person who has yet to join an art-training course have attracted the attention of Vietnamese artists and art students who often visit Dinh Thong in his workshop. Their praise have put the artisan on Hoi An’s art map, and have drawn the attention of the city’s culture center. Its staff plans to include his works in nationwide cultural events and exhibitions.
Photo: Hoang Son