Art, Sex and Nature: The artist opens up his home and shares his most sacred things
“See that?” asks our host, Đào Anh Khánh. “Do you notice anything special about my bird garden? Yes? I placed those vulvalike entrances there.” Which pretty much sets the tone for our talk with the artist.
Khánh is an effusive and welcoming host, pouring wine for us, letting us poke around his home and giving expansive replies to our questions. “I have nothing to hide about my personal life,” he says.
Everywhere around us there are interesting and beautiful objects, many of them very natural, simple and rustic. And the vulvas. Not pornographic in any sense, symbolic, but certainly ever present. Throughout his home there are items that are ‘sexy’, that symbolise Yin and Yang, male and female. There’s a tree outside his garden, one that he includes on the list of things to show us. During a storm it was hit by lightning, a long vertical scar torn into the flesh of the tree, now made soft with a covering of moss. ”It looks like a vulva”, Khánh points out, sounding pleased. “A natural vulva, that welcomes me every time I come home. As if god has noticed my ridiculously tremendous love for this thing, so he gave me one.”
Khánh’s garden is lushly packed with interesting plantings and objects, little nooks and hideaways. The house itself is an ethnic minority building, made by Mườngpeople over 100 years ago in Hòa Bình, and transported to Hanoi 19 years ago. Khánh‘s paintings are stacked, many deep, on the floor leaning against the walls. So many paintings. His upcoming solo show at the Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts will include, the blurb says, 500 pieces, most from 2014. That’s an almost insane amount of productivity, especially when Khánh’s other projects are factored in, including making his giant sculpture space outside of the city – an ambitious project in itself.
“This fireplace is where I sit for a drink or a talk with friends in winter. It is cozy and sexy. I don’t spend much time alone by the fireplace, contemplating or relaxing. When I’m alone I paint or create something.
Can you see those dangling things over the kitchen? I hang them with thin thread, when I start a fire and the air gets lighter, they dangle, they spin around. And swinging things like this are sexy. There is both sexuality and music in this space.
And these are the kitchen gods, but not the normal ones that people put a pot on. These symbolise the vaginas. And that one the penis. All this is about Yin and Yang. As is important in my spiritual life, those sculptures represent fertility. Art is sealed in those things, and they make me happy. Those are the things I like.”
The Tree Branch in the Bedroom
“I love nature. Above my bed, there’s a branch. Each day when I open my eyes, or when I go to bed, I can see it, and it makes me feel at ease. It’s a natural branch, with the leaves cut off and a layer of paint on it. I usually paint it white, probably with a bit more colour at the tips. Sometimes I use it as a candle holder.
The branches I have are beautiful, but sometimes they can be quite dangerous. I like branches with small arms reaching out. If I rush into the bed, these little arms may scratch my face. I love this branch though, and I think it deserves to be here in my bedroom. The branch gives a hint of nature here, but not the simple kind of nature, there’s also art in it.”
“I wear [fedora hats] all the time, everywhere I go, even to an indoor dinner or while I’m at home. I’m not so proud of my face. I have a dull face. A hat makes it less dull, brings more characteristics to my face. I also feel a little more powerful, more manly with a hat on.
I love showing the sexy parts of my body just as women do. I also admire the fluttering lappets, the flashy necks, the puffy sleeves women have on their clothes. Men tend to eliminate those features on their costumes. Why can’t us men dress like that?
At the same time I’m a man and I want to demonstrate my masculinity. That’s why when I dress a little bit more like a woman does, I have to add more male character to my look with a hat or a chain. Those are really strong accessories that will help me balance the Yin – Yang in myself.
My necklaces are usually the shape of a bird or a bee. I make them myself. When I go to the sea, I collect coral pieces then turn them into Yin and Yang designs. These are the things I usually carry with me, they reflect my passion in art, the sparks that directly influence my spiritual life.”
“[My car] brings me joy, the kind of joy you have when you wear your favourite clothes. This car has given me tons of memories. A part of my life is with that car. Firstly I like cars to be manly looking, but also to be shiny, just like my fashion sense. I have strong feminine characteristics, but the manliness is there, and I want to bring it out. Secondly, I want my car to be as strong as a bull, a muscular porter that can help me carry things, especially when I work with sculptures outside in the valley. This car satisfies my both requirements and has become a significant thing in my life. It is like a friend of mine.”
“This bathtub always reminds me of the times I had with someone, a friend, so it stays close to my heart. Actually, every object has memories attached to it. In this bathroom, I really like doing abnormal things. Men usually enjoy being served, but I myself like being able to serve women. I designed this part down here so I can sit, or stand there while serving a beautiful woman. While she’s enjoying the bath, I just stand there with some wine or a towel. This scene even goes into the painting over there. This is life.”
The Bird Nests
“Do you notice anything special about my bird garden? I placed those vulvalike entries there so every morning, the birds come out, cockadoodoo, then go back in. It’s a little joy for me to watch them everyday.
I have had those nests for a while. I had a flock of beautiful white pigeons, more than ten of them. During the bird flu epidemic, the government required that all the birds were killed, so I lost them. Some Vietnamese keep those birds as pets and as a source of food. But I kept them for pure joy. I never once thought about having them cooked.”
And Other Things
”I also really care about this corner where I spend time enjoying a nice drink. Like this cup, I use it every day, or all the wooden furniture, and sitting within nature like this… Probably the shiny things as well, of which I don’t have so many, like a glittering glass for good wine for example.
Things that suggest sexuality, I also like. Take this hunting horn. Although this may sound a little sick, I like what it represents. The shape of this instrument gives a sense of male power. And when one blows this, it reminds me of a blowjob by a woman. So things often get intertwined in my mind this way, and this influences my creative work a lot.
I’m passionate about pestles and mortars as well. They symbolise sexuality. I collect pestles and mortars that have grown with time, the wooden kind that are indented after years and years of pounding. I use them as house decoration, like right there by the door. I like expressing myself honestly, and the truth is, I’m obsessed with sex. It makes life more prolific, more sensuous, those are my real feelings. I think everyone feels that way. You have a lover, naturally you desire her. Of course I have had a number of women that I have loved. Sometimes I’m in love with more than one woman at a time. And it’s not the playful kind of love, it is real love, with real passion.”