Elijah Ferrian witnesses the progress of one man’s adventure to illustrate a swiftly disappearing cityscape of old and his new space to showcase the visions of the not-so-distant past. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
Richie Fawcett has been in Ho Chi Minh City for the past seven years. He’s headed up some of the best bar programmes in the city’s history and has been working for the past few years on developing his skills with pen and ink.
The barman turned illustrator has spent countless hours sketching various aspects of Saigon’s storied architecture, diminutive hems and historically famous corners paying attention to each detail as if he were a local that had lived here all his life. His artwork is telling this story and he has finally opened up a space where all can come to see the drawings for themselves.
“This is a testament to Saigon and an expression of the streets through black and white pen and ink artwork. This has all been created over the last six years by me sitting on the street drawing.”
Fawcett tells us while we pore over originals he is flipping through. As Richie presents us with hundreds of different illustrations, the amount of times he stops to explain how the places in the drawings have either completely disappeared or changed so much as to be unrecognizable is alarming.
“A lot of these areas have changed so much even from just a couple years ago,” Fawcett says. “The collection of markets, street corners, and areas that are gone are all turning into glass buildings.” When I asked about redrawing the areas to bring them up to date with what they look like now, he tells me that he has been trying but it’s boring work. All he has to draw are rectangular and square shapes and cookie-cutter facades.
“When I talk about the story to tourists when working up at Shri, they’re like, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable. What happened in the last two or three years? Anywhere else this would be a crime!’ It’s a record, it’s an archive of the streets. I learned this back in 2013, how fast all of the city is changing,” Fawcett continues. “My girlfriend and I used to get up super early and go to Cholon and draw three or four pictures, go home and rest, and then go back out and draw a few more. You really have to be motivated because if you don’t get out and draw you’ll wake up a month later and realize the whole city is gone. Places that you wanted to draw might drastically change in a very short amount of time.”
One interesting aspect that Fawcett’s illustrations touch on is the fact that people seem to connect emotionally a lot more with a drawing of these locales around town than they do a photograph.
Fawcett used to be a photographer, so he has a decent grasp on composition and what places work for shots. Drawing them has brought a personal touch that he thinks speaks to people in a different way.
Saigon Studio, the gallery and studio that is open by appointment only, is Fawcett’s solution to a busy restaurant lifestyle and a lack of a dedicated space to produce his artwork. Richie explains a bit about how the space came about.
“The Saigon Studio is the gallery for the studio. Every artist has a studio, and mine was literally sitting on the street. I’m so honored to have been able to do that in this crazy city that I have fallen in love with. I got to the point after being taken over by this need to draw these scenes that I needed to have a home for them. I wrote the book Cocktail Art of Saigon, it was nominated for World’s Best Cocktail Book at Tales of the Cocktail, but For me it’s not about winning awards. It’s honestly about making a cocktail or picture to please myself. The whole idea will be commercialised like everything else if I start focusing on anything else but doing this mental yoga. So, that’s where the idea for Saigon Studio came from. Relaxation and spending time with good people to discuss the story of Saigon.”
Richie eventually started to draw on the top of AB Tower where Chill is. He was working for Sorae restaurant, always opening bars in giant buildings, and while he was up there every day setting up the bars he’d always marvel at the view. He began drawing the larger, non-street-level scenes in 2013.
His first attempt at doing a three-sixty panorama view was from Sorae’s vantage point. It took him six months to do it. Back when one could see the horizon. Now the city is so built up you can just see skyscrapers.
The horizontal panoramas were the solution to all of the corners disappearing. Now, he’s been doing vertical pieces, steadily increasing in size, because he keeps having to go higher in order to keep up with the rapid changes. He’s gone from a micro to macro focus as his skills improve. Each one of the panoramas takes about forty or fifty hours total, and generally come in panels of three.
“This space is the antidote if I have too much going on,” Richie says. “I think for me it took on its own life after I realised there’s a body of work here larger than me. I haven’t even scratched the surface. My biggest goal is to finish as many pages of the streets in Saigon as possible. I’ll never run out of places to draw, so I needed a place to put it all in.
He’s created a yin-yang space with the Tao mentality of balance and harmony. In Ho Chi Minh City, one has to maintain some type of harmonious relationship with their personal space, or they may just lose their cool.
“You give us a call on the number and we will make sure we’re here,” says Richie. “We just want to spend time with people and tell the story of this city. In any other gallery they’re open at any time and you can walk in. But we can’t always be here, so we do appointments and we feel that we can present the content in the proper way and truly tell the story and relax and make new friends. I like to create a night where I’ll make some of the cocktails from my book, and we can talk about the city and how it’s changing.”
Call 0911906468 to schedule an appointment. First Floor, 42 Ly Tu Trong, D1