Hanoian artist channels her farming background to create ethereal silk paintings

Born and raised in Thanh Hoa Province , 28-year-old Le Thuy remains closely tied to her native region and the farming life that was her daily milieu before migrating to Hanoi at age 19 to pursue a higher education. These ties are clearly seen in the subject matter that she has chosen to focus on in the Where Is the Place of Peace watercolor on silk collection. The detailed depiction of the plant and animal life in Thuy’s work could only be made by someone with an intimate knowledge of rural Vietnamese life.

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“I consider myself lucky because of my rural background. I have a deeper understanding of the trees and plants. I see the way they move in a way that other people from a different background cannot. They may see them but they don’t understand and feel about plants and animals the way that I do,” she says.There is a special pleasure in curating an exhibition by a Vietnamese artist using a material and employing a style that is both uniquely her own but also quintessentially Vietnamese. Thuy’s choice of silk as her medium of expression is not lucky accident but rather taken with conscious intent as she states clearly in her artist statement for the exhibition. Silk is a material that is synonymous with this region and one which facilitates a form of expression that engenders a visceral reaction in viewers.

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Her choice to work in silk is also a felicitous one for the future of the medium in Vietnam. While many contemporary artists focus on more easily commercialized media like oil on canvas or other types of media which are considered more avant garde by the art literati; it is a good and necessary thing that some of the country’s most talented young artists—of which Thuy demonstrably shows herself to be a member— continue to work with silk to help foster and evolve the tradition of Vietnamese silk painting.

Portraying mainly idealized rural landscapes, village life, pagodas and historic events, there is an inherently conservative and homogenous character to much of traditional Vietnamese silk painting. Thuy’s work pays homage to this thematic tradition while turning it on its head. The Vietnamese countryside is still the setting but her depictions are neither anodyne nor idyllic. They are filled with the life and death struggle of nature and often tinged with a large dollop of madness and even the macabre.

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Belying her relative youth, she brings a sense of purpose and an exacting standard of professionalism to her work that is clearly manifested in the quality of the works of the Where Is the Place of Peace collection.

“For me, it is not about just making a beautiful painting. That is not enough. It must reflect my thoughts, my current state of mind, in this space that I am in. Perhaps in the future I won’t be able to paint like this anymore and will paint flowers or maybe even something abstract. But at this moment, it would be torture for me to paint in a way that did not allow me to fully express myself. It would be a form of self-deception and I do not want to engage in that,” she continues.

le-thuy_walking-in-the-garden-iv_cuoc-dao-choi-trong-vuon-iv_2016_watercolor-on-silk-_170-x-62-cmWhere Is the Place of Peace will be exhibited at Craig Thomas Gallery (165 Calmette, D1) until October 27.

TEXT BY CRAIG THOMAS