WORKS ON SHOW: An installation of Trrần Thị Thu's art in Thanh Hóa Province. Photos coutersy of the artist
by Kiều Trinh
Trần Thị Thu’s large paintings on canvas have been known to stun people. Her wildly vivid colours on dangling linen strips resonate in wind and sunlight, embellished by shadows from the criss-crossing foliage of star fruit trees, surprising viewers with the harmony between art and nature.
In her garden, which was blanketed in sun after summer rains that left leaves wet and puddles on the ground, Thu said of her artistic journey: “I have come a long way. During my decades of searching for my story, I didn’t even know if I could get to where I am today. But as I took steps to search for myself, I realised I had found what I wanted and what I chose.”
Raised in Việt Nam’s northwest since she was eight years old, the young Thu went to mountain fields to harvest rice or to the forest to pick bamboo shoots, collect firewood, or to cut timber for the family home, all the while living the idyllic life experienced by many ethnic minority children.
“Though I am not from an ethnic group, I have virtually integrated into the lives of the people of the northwest, especially the Thái, Mông, and Dao,” she said.
“Perhaps I have been especially influenced by those ethnic groups and their culture, including their food, music and dance. At first, I was not at all confident about exploring the northwest, but when I had learned enough about these cultures I found that I had my own way to travel. I explored many of the special characteristics of the Thái and Mông and applied them in my early works.”
STUNNING CREATION: Part of the 'Giăng tơ' installation exhibited in Hội An and Huế.
During the first 20 years of her life as a professional artist, many people believed Thu would shape herself with the stamp of folk materials of ethnic minorities, but in recent years her art has changed deeply.
Even when using traditional Vietnamese materials like silk, Thu has a different approach.
“Usually people consider silk paintings to be associated with softness, but I just can’t paint like that,” she explained.
“I used to struggle with it. When the headmaster at the Việt Nam Fine Arts University marked my silk painting, he said, ‘You paint silk using oil painting techniques,’ and laughed before adding, ‘but it was very beautiful.’ I was happy I had found a special way to express myself on silk.”
“Between the ages of 30 and 40, I learned more about the form of expression in Western art. I love the artworks of Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall, but I find myself suited to contemporary art.”
“It took me 20 years to start my own art. I eventually realised that contemporary art felt most natural to me. I found my personality was perfectly suited to this type of art, in paintings as well as other forms of visual art I have tried.”
GOING ON FOREVER: A piece by Thu that is dozens of metres long.
Teaching at the Northwestern College of Arts and Culture in Hòa Bình Province and painting in a small rented house with a star fruit garden on the banks of the Red River in Hà Nội, Thu had to travel back and forth between the two and life was a struggle.
“I spend a great deal of any money I make on my painting,” she said. “It was only when I set up this studio in Hà Nội in 2015 that I started earning money from my works.”
Not wanting to be limited in any way, she always seeks new forms of artistic expression. Metres and metres of linen stretched out across her garden became a new form of inspiration. Thu has also presented installation art, including one called “Giăng tơ” (Distaff) at the opening of an art exhibition in Hội An as part of a series of cultural and artistic events to celebrate 20 years of the ancient town’s recognition by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage.
“Sometimes I wonder whether paintings like mine, on linen, could be considered art,” she said.
“But during my time painting in this garden, I have had a dream to go beyond normal painting frames. I realise now that my artistic instincts have led me here, but I still have no idea where I will go.” VNS