Paint Việt Nam in London, a self-taught painter puts nostalgia on the walls

December 07, 2020 - 09:30

A triptych of three large oil on canvas paintings adorning Viet Rest restaurant in London has become a new magnet to bring Vietnamese living in the UK capital city together. 


Painter Vũ Kim Thanh works on his iconic Roster & Hen islands painting. Photo courtesy of Viet Rest owner

LONDON — A triptych of three large oil on canvas paintings adorning Viet Rest restaurant in London has become a new magnet to bring Vietnamese living in the UK capital city together. 

"I feel as if I were sitting on a boat floating on the real Hạ Long Bay," said Long Vĩ Văn, owner of the restaurant, who commissioned painter Vũ Kim Thanh to paint three pieces of Hạ Long Bay. 

"It was a run down restaurant when I bought it," said Văn. "I have commissioned Mr Thanh to paint Việt Nam's two World Heritage sites on the walls: Hạ Long Bay and Sơn Đoòng, the world's largest cave."

"I wanted to show our customers here in London the beautiful landscapes of Việt Nam."

Since the murals were painted, Văn said the number of customers increased. The restaurant has become a meeting destination for not only the local British diners but also serves as a home for Vietnamese living in the Greenwich Borough of London.

Viet Rest owner Long Vĩ Văn commissioned painter Vũ Kim Thanh with three murals. Photo courtesy of Viet Rest owner

"We have been packed for a few days now," he said. "Many Londoners came to us, many filled all the seats. Some could not wait they had to leave, but many asked about the painter and showed their respect. Some even asked for the painter's contacts and want to commission him to paint more at their places."

Painter Thanh told Việt Nam News he has painted the landscapes of Perfume Pagoda, Sơn Đoòng Cave, and Hạ Long Bay for shops and restaurants. He has also painted the picturesque Ba Vì mountains and some other landscapes.

A self-taught painter, Thanh has also honed his skills at an art school in the UK, where he learned anatomy and painted nude models. 

He has also used acrylic, oil, pencils and aquarelle in still-life, abstract and other styles.

He started in 1975 and in 2002, he brought home some paintings to be in an exhibition with 50 other painters in his home city of Hải Phòng. 

Earlier in 2000, he had a solo exhibition in London, which was reported by BBC Vietnamese. Now Thanh is a member of an art group that exhibits around the UK.

Thanh said he felt quite lonely in London, where he's the only Vietnamese painter.

"I'm very happy and proud to see a Vietnamese painter in London, who painted our homeland world-famous landscape for everyone to contemplate, admire and soothe our nostalgia," said a diner who didn't want to give his name. 

Thanh recalled that a diner saw him paint at the restaurant and said: "This restaurant has been our common meeting ground, you painted homeland pictures and let our souls immerse into our beautiful landscapes. I love you and salute you!"

Two waiters of the restaurants have not only been busy serving the customers, but also explaining what the paintings are about. 

Painted on the two opposite long walls of a small restaurant, one painting is 6m x 1.4m the other is 7m x 1.4m mural. It's impossible to capture the whole painting in one photo. The third wall features a full moon night on the bay. 

The murals depict two famous scenes on Hạ Long Bay, namely the Rooster & Hen Islands, and the Cave of the Wooden Head. 

The mural of a moonlit night on Hạ Long Bay. The size of the room prohibits capturing the whole 3.15m x 1.95m painting. Photo courtesy of Viet Rest owner

On the moonlit night mural, the painter even added real pebbles on oil, a combination which he said is very solid and can't even be broken with a hammer. 

Painter Thanh has injected souls into the mute stone structure, making the figures like humans interacting with each other.

Hạ Long Bay is Việt Nam's most well-known summer destination. For those who live thousands of miles away from home, they cherish touching something endearing like the images of the stone islands on the bay. 

One of World Natural Heritage sites recognised by UNESCO, there have been numerous poems, essays, paintings, video clips and millions of pictures taken at Hạ Long Bay. But it's truly a rare occasion when a few dozen-square murals of Hạ Long Bay were painted in the UK.

"Thank you to painter Vũ Kim Thanh and Viet Rest owner for having brought Hạ Long Bay all the way to London!" reads a comment on the restaurant's Facebook page. VNS

Bức tranh đã hoàn thiện 

"Nhìn tranh lòng đỡ héo hon

Quê hương ngàn dặm mãi còn trong ta

Tha phương chìm đắm phong ba

Tình quê nghĩa bạn thiết tha mặn nồng .

Viết, vẽ lên chân trời hồng

Cho đời tươi thắm bềnh bồng niềm vui."

Hạ Long Bay paintings

(a poem by Vũ Kim Thanh, roughly translated as)

"Looking at the paintings eases the pain

Thousands of miles away, our homeland forever in our hearts

Living abroad swept away in stormy seas

Love for the homeland and fellowship stays deep

Let's write, let's paint our own rosy horizons

To make our lives brighter with floating joy."