Diem Phung Thi (1920- 2002) whose name of birth is Phung Thi Cuc, is a famous sculptor in the world. In 1991, her name was written in the list of great talents of Larousse Dictionary: “Art of the 20th century”. In 1992, she is also a member of the European Academy of Sciences, Literature and Arts.
Phung Thi Cuc was born on August 18, 1920 in Chau E village, belongs to a suburban area of Hue city. She was a native of Ha Tinh province and in a mandarin family and was orphaned at 3 years old. Following her father living in the Central and Highland provinces for 9 years before returning to Hue to attend primary school. In 1946, she graduated from Hanoi Medical University, its first course under the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The nation entered the stage of resistance, she joined in serving the revolutionary cause. Because of her illness, she was sent to France for treatment. Upon recovery, she pursued her studies and graduated in dentisty in France. Then she got married to the colleague of hers – Mr Buu Diem. Diem Phung Thi was named from her husband’s name. In 1959, she began to learn sculpture. In 1966, she had the first sculpture exhibition which received a warm welcome by the French public. And she became a sculptor. Subsequently, many exhibitions were held over France, German, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, etc. Her 38 monumental works and thematically decorative motifs were displayed all over France. Diem Phung Thi became renowed throughout Europe.
The unique feature of Diem Phung Thi’s sculpture is based on the arrangement and variation of 7 modules. They are called alphabets by the art critic Ray Mond Cogniat or 7 musical notes by Professor Tran Van Khe. The first modules were made of the pieces of discarded woods with many random shapes that were left in the art studio, but they were the lively figured world through Diem Phung Thi’s eyes. She chose 10 signs and through the creative process with her skillfully talented fingers grouped into 7 modules from the discarded woods. The alphabets were drastically reduced into elements, she opened the field literally to infinity by varying its dimensions from the intimate to the majestuous, metamorphosing it, giving it form, in the most diverse materials. With such 7 creative modules, she skillfully arranged and transformed into multiple sculptures that created a splendour world of Diem Phung Thi with the deeply Eastern philosophy.
The world of her sculpture and painting were a strange and fascinating system of shape, light and darkness, of colors and lines, of her own materials and environment that was developed without limitation based on her own language system – Diem Phung Thi sculpture language. With her passion and excellent creative ability and the spirit of an Oriental poet, she was not only create for herself a unique style of sculpture which was modern with various materials such as wood, copper, aluminum, onyx, plaster… combined high technologies but full of nationality with nostalgia and dreams of come back to hometown, a poetic, painful and proud country.
Sculpture art of Diem Phung Thi artist can be divided into 3 stages:
The first period started to study sculpture in studio of Volti sculptor and self-study, make sculptures according to various style of sculpture (contemporary and ancient art). So her artworks in this period was plenty of genres showing conception of reality was quite clear, was the sensual artworks, harmonious and sexy from the female body with Eastern mystique expressing a desire for the warm and happy life. But she did not immitate any model of anyone like the artworks : “Waiting”, “button up”, “The Earth”, “The lady with roll up legs”. In spite of living in France this time, her mind about Vietnam always expressed very deeply and strongly in her sculptures, they were both
metaphorically and figurative. So the art of Diem Phung Thi always made viewers to think and reflect.
The second period was the exploration phase to assert the Diem Diem Thi language: the refined, well-defined objects that were condensed help her to generalize into elements which were the simply letters of alphabet during the period like: “ Warriors” or artworks which had strange and dude views of the Ancient Western art such as: “Bird lady” to artworks near modernity such as: “the returnees from far away”, “Circus”. There were the flourish in the shape and prerequisite for the birth of characters or the arrangement of space of Diem Phung Thi.
The third period is the stage of arranging and assembling cubes to create unique work. Due to 7 modules created by Diem Phung Thi, a difference in the language of shaping and artistic thought of Diem Phung Thi is made. That is the most distinctive, unique and miraculous thing in the sculpture of Diem Phung Thi (the language she created). From simple materials, it is possible to transform and create tangible things. Based on 7 modules, she has assembled from this form to another … By her ingenuity, delication and sensitivity, one by one, with a slight change in size, position or color or material could become vivid images. People can feel the language is luxurious but simple, strong and soft. Many people have considered Diem Phung Thi as the East-West bridge builder in a metalanguage conversation.