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by Tran Thi Thu Ha


When I was four years old, my father taught me to read, write and draw at the same time. He told me about my grandfather, who was an artist painter and a sculptor. He left his hometown of Thanh Hoa for Hue, the capital city at that time, to make sculptural works for the royal court. It was regretful that when he died, my father was too young to know which works are his since there were no signatures on art works at the royal palace. My father thought I have a natural gift for painting because I have spiral finger prints, a belief widely shared among Vietnamese people. Moreover, my deep admiration for my grandfather inspired me with a vague feeling that my existence is related to painting.

The first painting lesson my father taught me was to use the alphabetical letters and geometrical figures to draw toys and animals. A cat had two circles, two V's and the tilde ~. A bird was a letter h with extra lines. A pig was a combination of letters E, M, W and I. A doll face was a letter O, her hair the image of an arch, her shoulders two curves, and her neck, arms and legs parallel lines. So, right in the first lesson, I was given a simple and interesting way to form figures. Now if my father were still alive, he would be surprised to find those lovely figures in my oil paintings forty years later.

When I entered Dong Khanh Middle and High School in Hue, Mr. Dinh Cuong, a painting teacher and a famous artist, recognized my gift for painting and encouraged me to come to his studio to learn more. I went there for a while but finally gave up. Whenever there was no school, I enjoyed wandering on pine hills in the sunshine, climbing up to the top of the mountains to watch sunsets, walking to river banks to gaze at colorful clouds on the sky-line. Nature was immense, but my time was limited.

After graduated from high school, I left Hue for Sai Gon to attend Minh Duc Business University. I became interested in social affairs and aware that I should let my thoughts and feelings go beyond the border of my small country. During this period of time, I wrote poems, short stories and novels.

In 1975, I got married and soon had to cope with great misfortunes. I endured the pain of separation, poverty and fear. I tried my best to heal my wounds and overcome my disappointments in order to survive and earn a living for my family. My love for my husband and my children made up for the loss that they suffered. And I still love and forgive everyone.

After the Renovation Policy of the Vietnamese government, my husband and I opened Tu Do Gallery, the first private art gallery in Ho Chi Minh City, in 1989. We have organized several painting exhibitions. It was fortunate that the first exhibition by artist Rung, as well as the following ones, were successful. These achievements made us feel more confident to continue our business. I had opportunities to see many great paintings and meet and talk to famous artists. I also studied books and magazines on fine arts. Then my passion for painting was ignited.

I admire Chagal and Van Gogh. Some people said my paintings evoke something similar to those of Evard Munch. This is a nice surprise to me as I had never seen his works before I heard that comment.

In late 1990, I started painting. I enjoy listening to classical music while painting. I paint the past, the presence and the future as life is a chain of time. My characters always have innocent features like little children because people can survive and improve only with pure virtues. Everything in my paintings looks alike and mingles with one another. A person resembles a branch when lying in a wood, a blade of grass when standing by a shrub, a water plant when swimming in a river. Cats’ countenances look like those of children. Stones are like flowers. The sky, the ground and the water have the same color. The storm of life, energy and vitality form the strong movements. All of those elements are mixed in a wonderful symphony of life, which I want to express from the bottom of my heart.

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