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The love and labour of Vietnamese art

Julia Thieu stands in front of her art pieces. She wears a beige coat with a floral broach.
Julia Thieu in the Thieu Art Gallery

As I walk through the Thieu Art Gallery with its owner, Julia Thieu, she tells me about the personal responsibility she feels to share Vietnamese art and artists with people in Canada.

She says much of Vietnamese art is unique, even within East and South Asia, because of the country’s distinctive history in the region.

“Artists in my country are influenced by our history,” Julia says. “And our history is a lot of war—from China, France, and then the U.S. So, most of the artists, they have lived in and grown up in the experience of war.”

Her gallery in Canada has only opened recently. But Julia has worked for two years in Canada, bringing exposure to artists that are celebrated in Vietnam.

It is also not her first gallery. Her gallery in Hanoi, open since 2006, still provides a rich space for artists to display and sell their work.

Many artists in Vietnam are influenced by France. This harkens back to when the country was a French colony. And while Vietnam regained their independence in the mid-1900s, the influence is still visible.

Elements of French culture are used and blended with Vietnamese culture to create a truly unique and hybrid art. Julia says French influence goes beyond painting; it is in their food, architecture and further.

However, while artists in Vietnam are influenced by other cultures, Julia says they always seem to return to indigenous art forms at some point in their careers, namely lacquer.

Lacquer involves layers of paint, with each layer allowed to dry completely before a new one is added. In between layers, other materials such as eggshell, varnish or gold and silver leaf are added. Layers are also finely sanded to bring out previous layers already painted.

It is a time-intensive form of painting. A single work can take months or years depending on its size and the number of layers involved.

Vietnamese lacquer is unique compared to other forms of lacquer.

“Lacquer is very special in my country,” Julia says. “Even in [other countries], lacquer is different because of their nature.”

In bringing lacquer paintings to Canada, she says it has been important to educate potential buyers. But she feels that those who enter her gallery have been receptive and interested.

Thieu Art Gallery will be exhibiting several Vietnamese artists at the upcoming Art Vancouver International Art Fair.

Information about the gallery can be found at

By Nathan Durec


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