Tran Thi Thu Ha
1952: Born in Hue, Vietnam
As a child, Tran Thi Thu Ha loved to draw and paint and showed a great artistic aptitude. Neighboring children used to ask her to draw paper dolls and clothes for them. During elementary and high school years, her classmates asked her to decorate their notebooks with her creative drawings. Artist Dinh Cuong, a then lecturer at Hue Fine Art College and art teacher at Dong Khanh High School, noticed the talent of Thu Ha and another student in class. He decided to give them private lessons. However, Dinh Cuong was too busy and the two students preferred to play; so Thu Ha and her friend studied under artist Dinh Cuong for only a short period of time.
During the difficult years after 1975, her artistic aptitude helped her earn her living by designing t-shirts for sale. She did not start her career as a painter until late 1990, one year after opening Tu Do (Liberty) Gallery in Saigon.
Thu Ha’s paintings look as naïve as those made by children. She recollects and recreates what she drew during her childhood. Perhaps that’s the reason why she loves Chagall’s artworks. “When your style becomes mature, you’ll no longer be able to sell your paintings,” one of her artist friends once told her. Now at the age of 62, Thu Ha still maintains her childlike style.
Thu Ha often uses knives to create oil paintings. She seldom uses brushes. Since the earliest stage of her painting career, she’s filled her canvases with intense, powerful movement. At first, she didn’t understand why her paintings reminded some viewers of Edvard Munch’s works. She was surprised as she had never seen Munch’s works before and decided to learn about this painter. Now she thinks it is the movement in her paintings that is reminiscent of Munch’s style. She often paints a human figure surrounded by and drawn into swirling movement, or emerged from such movement. She loves to swing her knife from left to right in upward movement so that thick and bold streaks of colors twist and rise together. She projects onto her canvases her inner turmoil and frustration while at the same time expressing her love for life and her aspiration to rise up against all odds.
In 1995, Tran Thi Thu Ha studied lacquer painting. Artist Nguyen Tan Cong taught her the techniques of traditional lacquer painting (lacquer is made from resin extracted from a type of tree in Phu Tho Province). Since then, she has created many lacquer paintings using knives and brushes.
On December 12, 1991, Tran Thi Thu Ha held her first solo exhibition titled “Oil Paintings” at Tu Do (Liberty) Gallery in Saigon, where 30 paintings were displayed. The show received much praise from art lovers and critics and was also a financial success.
After that, she was invited to hold several solo exhibitions abroad, including those in Canberra, Australia in 1992, Hong Kong in 1993, Katrineholm, Sweden in 1994, Brussels, Belgium in 1997, and Texas, USA from 2004 to 2006. She also participated in many group exhibitions in Vietnam and abroad.
On December 20, 2011, she held another solo exhibition, “Tran Thi Thu Ha – Twenty Years in Art,” at Tu Do (Liberty) Gallery, Saigon. This show displayed all phases of her art career, from her first oil painting, “Flowers,” completed in 1990, to her most recent one, “On the Flame,” created in 2011. Some of her lacquer paintings were also on display. As part of this exhibition, Tu Do (Liberty) Gallery published a booklet titled “TRAN THI THU HA 1991-2011 – TWENTY YEARS IN ART,” which presents all of her oil and lacquer paintings that have not been sold yet, as well as some that have been sold.
Tran Thi Thu Ha still draws and paints enthusiastically. Besides running the art gallery, she continues painting and gives advices to her children as they draw illustrations for their story series “Beastopedia.” She plans to visit many cities in the US to paint a new series entitled “DREAMS” engthat reflects her faithful naïve style.