Pigment of imagination
Fr Joseph Tran, who has been painting for only six years, sees his art as a way into pastoral care for people. ‘It reaches beyond differences and barriers,’ he says
Fr Joseph Tran’s life as a priest and his skill as an artist are closely linked.
The former refugee from the communist regime in Vietnam, now parish priest of Harden and Murrumburrah, in the Canberra and Goulburn archdiocese, took up painting only six years ago.
It was an outlet for the stresses he was experiencing as chaplain at Canberra Hospital.
“I loved paintings,” says Fr Joseph.
“I often used to go to galleries and I was inspired by the colours, but I never did anything about painting.”
That all changed when he visited an exhibitionby artist and Christian Brother Don Gallagher and bought a painting, his first.
“I couldn’t wait to pick it up,” he recalls.
“When I got home I put it in front of the desk and sat there and looked at it and enjoyed it.
“Then I decided to do something.”
Fr Joseph’s first step was to enrol in a 10-week night course in painting at the Canberra Art School.
“I had no idea about colours or brushes,” he says.
“When I mixed colours, they looked terrible, just like mud. I threw out so much paint.”
The first painting he attempted on his own was a still life which he created over a couple of days.
“The class couldn’t believe it when I showed them,” he recalls. “By the end of the course they could see I could pick up things really quickly.”
From there he took various painting courses - he has never learnt to draw - under the tuition of such artists as Robert Wilson, of Sydney, John Wilson, of Katoomba, and Reg Campbell, of Bathurst.
Then came his first solo exhibition three years ago at the Haydon Centre, next to St Christopher’s Cathedral in Canberra.
All 19 oil paintings were sold.
The amount of time he spends painting now depends on his spare time, his energy and his mood.
He has been at work for the past few months on a still life that he has called “Be still and know that I am God ...”
Equally important as painting is the time Fr Joseph spends in the bush soaking up the wonders of nature which trigger inspiration for paintings.
He sees his art as a way into pastoral care for people.
“Art is a language,” he says. “It reaches beyond cultural differences and language barriers.
“It means I find it easy to make friends here, not only with the Catholics of our parish.”
His paintings have come to the notice of local people since he exhibited in the local Harden art show.
Fr Joseph believes painting teaches him patience, deepens his spiritual life, and helps him relate to the beauty of God’s creation.
It lets him see how God lets creation carry on through the gifts of humankind.
The tranquillity of rural Harden and Murrumburrah, about 90 minutes drive from Canberra, is a far cry from the Vietnam that Fr Joseph, then a 29-year-old student for the priesthood, fled by boat in 1980 after the communist takeover.
He and 90 others spent 2˝ days in rough seas before being picked up by a US tanker in international waters and taken to Japan.
“We didn’t know where we were going; we were desperately seeking freedom and just wanted to go to another country,” he said.
After six months in Japan he was accepted into Australia as a refugee, sponsored by the late Fr Tom Wright, and initially stayed in the Canberra suburb of Red Hill as guest of Mons Favier.
He then entered St Patrick’s Seminary, Manly.
After he was ordained in 1987, Fr Joseph served as a deacon in Cooma and as an assistant priest at Queanbeyan.
He then served at Page, Braddon, Dickson in Canberra and as chaplain at Canberra Hospital before being appointed parish priest of Harden-Murrumburrah and its two churches - Our Lady of Mercy, Murrumburrah, and St Anthony’s, Harden.
Reprinted by courtesy of The Catholic Voice, Canberra