Revisiting A Place Once called Home (The Sapa Series) by Thu Nguyen

Revisiting A Place Once called Home (The Sapa Series) by Thu Nguyen

November 14, 2018

Thu Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam. Being very shy, she spent much of her childhood hiding away upstairs painting, instead of playing with other children. Her first brush with success was a Best of Show prize at the 1974 children's exhibition in Saigon sponsored by UNICEF. In 1975 Saigon fell and in the resulting confusion she was separated from her parents. Thu ended up in a refugee camp near Hong Kong for a year, prior to immigrating to the United States as an orphan. After one very snowy and cold winter in Pennsylvania, she went to Los Angeles to stay with some relatives.

"Lady of Sapa", Thu Nguyen, Oil on Panel, 40.6cm x 50.8cm, 2018


During Thu's high school years, she earned extra money doing fashion modeling work in the garment district and upon graduation started on the pre-med program in college. During this time Thu fell in love with art again and changed her major to art. While in college Thu had an acting stint in Hollywood on the side (she got a part in Oliver Stone's 'Heaven and Earth' and followed with a lead role in Elizabeth Hong Yang's 'Touch Within' in China).

After getting her art degree, Thu has since settled down to pursue her art career in Los Angeles,  later Seattle and finally Hawaii with the big excitement being adopting her first daughter from China and her second daughter from Vietnam.

"I Want to put a Ding in the Universe", Thu Nguyen, Oil on Panel, 2018


What initially drew you towards becoming an artist?

I have always loved art. Growing up as a child I used to watch my uncle paint, enthralled by his creativity and the ever changing scenes upon the canvas. It may have been part instinct / part nurture but I had always hoped to be an artist. 

How would you describe your own personal style?

I like tight realistic painting, close to photo-realism.

What pushed you in that direction and how can you see your work evolving in the future?

When it comes to my particular style of painting I have always been admirer of the works of artists Bo Bartlett, Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. Inspired not just by the way in which they paint, but also by the way in which they treat their subject matter. 

What inspires you in your work, is there a driving factor that draws you to the easel?

I have a deep inner need to paint.  I feel happiest when I am sitting in front of my easel and paint away the daily stress and anxiety.

"Girl from Sapa", Thu Nguyen, Oil on Canvas, 40.6cm x 50.8cm, 2018


Are there particular individuals who have encouraged / inspired you along the way, friends, family, teachers, maybe even other artists?

I have been lucky to have grown up with a close connection to creativity through my uncle's artwork. It opened a doorway for me at a young age. Bo Bartlett, Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper are my favorite artists.

When it comes to creating your work, do you have a preferred medium, certain types of brushes or tools you love to use?

I love to paint oil on panel.

When it comes to the subject matter of your work, what draws you to those themes?

My favorite subject matter is portraiture and figurative art...for some reasons, I have always felt drawn to those two means of expression.

Could you describe your normal day as an artist? Have you set routines and rituals or is a more a case of when the moment is right you work?

Like many modern women I have to strike a balance between my two main roles in life. I always paint after I have sent my daughter to school and stop when she comes home.

"Woman in the Shadows", Thu Nguyen, Oil on Panel, 91.5cm x 61cm, 2018


When you work, do you focus on one piece at a time until completion or are you working on multiple pieces at the same time?

I only do one piece at a time

How has your art evolved to be where it is today?

When I look back at my work over the years, I have noticed that I used to paint looser and more painterly. However, over time I have begun to paint more slowly allowing me to bring out the tight details of realism in my more current works. 

Which of your artworks are you most proud off?

My Sapa Series - This body of work inspired by my trips back to Vietnam. I fell in love with this particular location because of its beautiful rice terraces and the Hmong people. Sapa is located in a very mountainous region of North Vietnam which gives it breath taking scenery and a harsh climate, it sometimes snows there. My mother was born and raised on a farm in this area. Like most people in the area, she grew up very poor and never attended school or learned to read. Everyone (including children) were expected to work on the farm to support the family . In 1954, when Vietnam split in half, my mother left her family behind at age 16 and traveled south to Saigon. She did not see her family again until Vietnam became united after the war in 1975.

"Remember Me", Thu Nguyen, Oil on Canvas, 76.2cm x 101.6cm, 2018


Is there a fellow artist alive today that you admire? If so, why?

Bo Bartlett because I love his work

If you could travel back in time, is there a particular artistic period / era that you would like to have been involved in?

Maybe the Renaissance Period. 

What advice would you give to a young aspiring artist currently studying art?

Do what you love and love what you do.

"Beloved", Thu Nguyen, Oil on Panel, 61cm x 76.2cm, 2018


Many people see artists as storytellers or advocates for a cause, do you believe that it is an artist's responsibility to shine a light on a particular subject / theme, or do you create purely for the sake of expression your creative nature?

I do not believe as an artist that you have to be one or the other. I think it is both.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am continuing on the creative and personal journey that has led me into painting the Sapa Series, and exploring other themes and motifs that have come about as a result of this artistic venture. 

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