Hanoi painter finds her passion through fabric-based creations

The Hanoi-based female artist has been creating outstanding paintings themed Hanoi from thousands of fabric pieces for almost four decades.


AFP, the French leading global news agency, has recently run an article about local artist Tran Thanh Thuc for her success with cloth-based creations.

The creative painter

“In a hot and stuffy room in Hanoi, Tran Thanh Thuc holds up a delicate silk scarf and begins snipping it into tiny pieces, ready to paste onto her works of art,” AFP’s staff writer described.

The painting titled “Hanoi Autumn in the Old Days” by Hanoi-based renowned painter Tran Thanh Thuc. Photo courtesy of the artist

According to AFP, for four decades, Thuc has been recreating Vietnamese landscapes using vibrant shades of fabric cut from scarves, traditional ao dai (Vietnamese women traditional dress), or whatever material she could find during years of poverty in the 1980s.

“At that time, I tried to look for woolen string, velvet cloth, or other very simple pieces to make my first pictures,” she told AFP.

“Now sometimes I cut them from the very beautiful silk scarves sent from my friends abroad.”

Often using hundreds of thousands of pieces of cloth to shape trees, rivers, and patches of sky, the 61-year-old artist doesn’t dare to cool her home studio with fans or air conditioning, even in the scorching summers of the Vietnamese capital.

“If the fan is on, the details will get blown away,” she said. “So, when I work, the environment is tough… it’s just me and the fabric.”

The female painter and one of her fabric-based creations at the Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts in Hanoi. Photo: Thanh Thuc

For most of the years that Thuc has worked with cloth, she keeps a day job as a civil servant and only had time “to do what she loved” during the night, according to AFP.

But her fortune began to change when an American collector bought a work in 2000 and around a decade ago, she started to be invited to exhibitions and her work began to be sold.

Thuc said that her creations are recently sold for between VND25 million (US$1,000) and (ND125,000 ($5,000) and she has taken part in shows around Vietnam.

Endless love for Hanoi through paintings

Artist Tran Thanh Thuc creates her artworks on various materials such as oil on canvas, gouache, and watercolor but her most creative passion is patchwork paintings.

During the past 30 years, with only scissors, fabric, and soaring imagination, Thuc has created hundreds of unique and colorful paintings. She is the only artist who creates large-format landscape patchwork paintings in Vietnam that are displayed in many exhibitions as well as purchased by foreign art collectors.

An artwork by Thanh Thuc is on display at the exhibition application of IMuseum VFA/ Vietnam Museum of Fine Arts 

Born in Nam Dinh but studying, living, and working in Hanoi from a young age, most of Thuc’s canvas paintings are about Hanoi. Some of her typical paintings are “The Quan Chuong Gate”, “Silent Old Town”, “An Afternoon on Co Ngu Street” or “Hanoi in Early Winter”.

Emblematic places of Hanoi such as Long Bien Bridge, Opera House, St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Hoan Kiem Lake, West Lake, among others, are vividly and romantically portrayed on fabric paintings of talented female artists.

When contemplating the painting titled “The Sword Lake in an Afternoon Autumn”, viewers can see the artist’s great patience, skillfulness, and endless imagination. The painting made from thousand tiny pieces of fabric depicts the tranquil beauty of Hanoi’s iconic lake with the Turtle Tower silently reflects its shadow on the surface of the unique aqua green lake.

In another piece “Hanoi in the Leaves Changing Season”, Thuc depicted the gentle beauty of a Hanoi with brilliant red leaves in the autumn. The vivid highlight in the painting is the image of some Hanoi young women in their white ao dai gracefully strolling down a quiet little street.

Expensive but unique artworks

A working corner of Thanh Thuc at her workshop in Hanoi. Photo courtesy of the painter

Local markets and tailor shops are Thuc’s fabric sources. Many materials are collected, including brocades that were weaved by ethnic women, silk made of mulberry silkworm, or fabric imported from abroad.

Painter Thanh Thuc shared with The Hanoi Times: “The problem is that sometimes, chic and unique patterns can only find in Ao dai fabrics. Thus, I have to buy a whole large piece of the fabric for collecting just a single pattern on it. The materials for my artworks cost me a fortune.” 

Unique materials and the artist’s time-consuming work have contributed to these “one-of-a-kind” paintings. And of course, their prices are also many times higher than ordinary paintings made of normal materials.

One of Thuc’s latest creations- “Hoan Kiem Lake Viewed from Hoa Phong Tower”

“They are expensive, of course, but because of my passion, I don’t regret spending more money to make them even more pricey,” she said.

According to the female artist, her plan to organize some exhibitions has been postponed during the last two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“But I still work hard every day to prepare for a solo exhibition with the theme of Hanoi when life returns to normal,” she told The Hanoi Times.

People who love magnificent artworks created by artist Thanh Thuc can visit her own workshop at Thanh Thuc Gallery, No 409/30 Kim Ma Street, Ba Dinh District, Hanoi.