I met Radek a number of times over the past few years. He would come to Vietnam for a few months at a time, usually with his girlfriend Ylva, to work on his art and the film they were making about the H’Mong community in Sapa - people who for them had become like another family. We would see one another every now and again out with friends, share a drink, share a meal, a game of poker, and then he would be off again. It felt like I got to know him gradually, in installments.
Although we’d talked about his art before it wasn’t until the beginning of 2011, when he returned to Hanoi again, that I saw what he was working on. On his previous visits to Vietnam he’d told me of his frustrations when trying to find someone to collaborate with properly. He’d come close but it had never quite worked out. This time though, he found an artist and friend – Loi - who understood him and his ideas intuitively enough for them to be able to work together. He was clearly excited about this.
Normally, an artist uses tape to mask areas he doesn’t want painted. Radek’s idea was to make the masking tape itself the focal point of his art, and to use it to create scenes inspired by a combination of the higgledy-piggledy urban landscape of present day Vietnam and the pixilated scenery from the old computer games he played as a boy. The results were beautiful, jammed with detail and bordering on chaotic – just like the country that he loved. I saw more of him this time around and he was happy in his work, focused and driven to complete it.

On the night I left for Japan in April I saw Radek and we made plans to catch up when I returned, before he went back to Sweden. While I was away I heard that he’d decided to extend his stay again and would be in Hanoi for the summer. Although I knew the difficult personal sacrifices he’d made to remain here I was personally, selfishly, happy. I’d be able to see more of him. But one morning during my last days in Tokyo, staying with a friend, we got the news that Radek had died in his sleep. He was young, just 35 years old.
When I returned to Hanoi there was no Radek to see, only shocked, grieving friends, embassy staff, insurance workers, personal belongings to be packed up, and clothes to choose for him to wear in the coffin home.

Radek was one of the gentlest, most warmhearted people you could hope to meet. He was great fun and had an infectious giggle, but there was also a stillness about him, he listened, he was respectful and kind to everyone he met. Also, that rare thing: he knew what made him happy; he knew what he wanted to do and how to do it. And this: he said yes to most things, if not to everything. He didn’t have a mean word for anyone. He said strange, outdated things like ‘oh fudge!’ when he lost poker hands. He taught me an obscure, dirty word in Polish. He had a cool moustache. And I didn’t spend nearly enough time with him: something I felt each time he left and which is something I feel even more now he’s gone.

Ylva is here now and I’m getting to know her gradually too. She asked me to take photos of Radek’s art before the pieces get scattered, shared out to the people who loved him. I’d like to thank her for asking me to do that and also for surprising me by making me a gift of one of his paintings. Like everyone who knew Radek, if I had a choice between him being here and his art being here, I’d burn the pieces myself. But since we don’t get given these options I’m happy that he left something beautiful behind for us to have, along with our memories. Something that, if we look after it, will be here once we are gone too.


  1. I really want to meet Radek !

    1. I met him at the Window until the Rain comes residency in HCMC. He was truly an inspiring man. I have made a good Vietnamese friend, Tao who knew him well- I'm very glad to have met him the few times that I did.
      A very sad loss.
      Love, John Reeves