Dutch artist Eric Toebosch peels a thin layer of clay from the giant vase as he works in the ceramic shop of Hiep Nhung outside Hanoi in Viet Nam. Clay curls over the metal tool like wooden shaving and drops to the ground. His hand works steadily, almost independently from his mind. Over fifty years of experience manipulates his movement. An electric fan whirls behind him. The June heat is oppressive but the real fire comes from his art. His assistant, Ms. Hong, smiles broadly as she supports the art. She carves stencils, mixes pints, washes brushes, and helps hold patterns against the Vase as Toebosch works.

Like any artist Toebosch had a vision for his latest works, a chance to unite visual ideas from around the world and place them on Vietnamese vases in the ceramic village of Bat Trang, Vietnam. On this vase he is combining his impressions from Europe, Africa, and Asia and bringing them together in a congress of color and ideas. Human-like figures swirl about the clay, as if floating in the sky, and mix with herds of flying animals, symbols, lines, all represented in a maelstrom of vibrant colors. A giant eye or the sun or a small world shines from the center as if looking out at the world that is looking in at the vase.

Toebosch offsets his colors with bits of complementary colors: reds and oranges with a dash of blue, greens with red. One minute he looks serious, the next minute he laughs, a broad and welcoming smile cutting across his face. He is not aloof like many artists, and seems content with his considerable skills and capabilities. He is open to sharing his techniques and seems to truly enjoy people as he explains the work and tells old jokes and laughs.

Many artists refuse to offer instruction and are secretive about their work and their techniques, afraid that someone might steal them. Toebosch came to Viet Nam to share his craft and art. Vietnamese artists are very talented but lack imagination. Artists throughout the country, especially in the cities, can only paint from an existing image. They sit hour after hour with a photograph in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. Their minds cannot escape an existing image and grab a metaphysical idea to place on the canvass. Toebosch hopes to break that impediment and help set them free.

To work with clay he also paints with clay. He mixes various colors with a thin, watery amount of clay. Because clay, before being fired is absorbent and soaks up paint quickly, he paints with a large brush, one generally used for Asian calligraphy. A smaller brush carries too little paint that the clay eats quickly. Even with the larger brush he must move rapidly or the paint is simply absorbed often cutting any lines in mid stroke.

Determining colors is a particular art since the final fired color is different than the applied color. Experience is the key, a trait not lacking in Toebosch. Pottery, sculpture and canvass are all art to him but he especially enjoys working with a new medium and pottery is another way to express his ideas.

Toebosch is driven to convey his ideas about the universality of humanity, the harmony on identities, religions, and beliefs. His work is led by instinct and memory rather than by sketches, photos, and documents.

This is Toeboschs third visit to Viet Nam. Impressed by the culture, the people, and the country, it will not be his last. The hospitality and knowledge about ceramics from the people at Bat Trang insure he will work there again.


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