Third Generation Artist: Vietnam’s Post-War Socialist Realism
Lê Anh Vân was born in Thanh Hóa on 28 October 1952. He started drawing at a very young age, even carrying drawing materials on family excursions to the Hanoi Zoo. His childhood interest in drawing heavily influenced his decision to become an artist later in life.
Lê Anh Vân During the Vietnam War
In 1963, the onset of the Second Indochina War forced Vân and his family to evacuate to the countryside. For Vân, the change from city life to a rural one fuelled his interest in painting and sketching even more. Fish traps, rice mills and rural landscapes inspired Vân to paint more. However, a scarcity of materials limited his ability to create.
After lecturers in surrounding schools noticed his talent for art, Vân made the decision to study art after high school. Subsequently, Vân joined the Vietnam Fine Arts College in 1972. He learned basic painting techniques such as figure drawing. And the use of different materials like oils, watercolours, lacquer and Chinese ink.
Interview with Lê Anh Vân at his home in Hanoi by Witness Collection, 25 November 2019
In 1975, Vân joined the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) as part of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam’s general mobilisation order. He worked as an artist for a military art troupe, painting soldiers’ portraits and creating stage decorations. At the end of April 1975, his work for the troupe took him all over the country. Liberation celebrations kept him designing stages for various plays and dance performances.
Vân went back to college in late-1976. In his fourth year, he travelled to Hải Phòng on a college field trip. Vân made a series of art works depicting the industry prevalent in the northeastern port city. These paintings contributed to his final degree exam.
Adult Artistic Career
Vân graduated the Vietnam Fine Arts University in 1978. He continued to take field trips as a professional artist, largely on behalf of the Vietnam Fine Arts Association. Again focused on Vietnamese industry, he made art works of the hydroelectric dam on the Đà River. He also documented factories in the city of Phả Lại, signs of Vietnam’s progress as an independent country. On these excursions, Vân often travelled with senior Vietnamese artists such as Bùi Xuân Phái and Văn Đa.
Vân also returned to the countryside as a professional artist. Vân began a series of rural landscape paintings, but this time armed with a selection of colours.
In 1979, Vân travelled to Vietnam’s northern border with China to witness the Sino-Vietnamese border conflict. His art work from that time reflected the unity between Vietnamese people. He often represented Kinh Vietnamese, ethnic minorities and Vietnamese soldiers working together to defend their homeland.
Vân continued his education in 1989 by studying at the Rome Academy of Fine Arts in Italy. Vân remains grateful for the experience given the opportunity was not available to most artists from Vietnam at the time. He graduated in 1993 and continued to pursue changes in his artistic style. When he returned to Vietnam, Vân added paper, pulp and moulding paste to create rough textures.
Once back in Vietnam, Vân became an associate professor for the painting department of the Vietnam Fine Arts University. He presided over the university’s new painting programme. In this position, Vân partnered with German artist Veronika Radulovic, the first foreign lecturer at the Vietnam Fine Arts University. They worked together to develop a curriculum focused on exposing students to artistic styles from around the world.
Lê Anh Vân lives and continues to work in Hanoi.
Hội Mỹ Thuật Việt Nam, Nghệ sĩ tạo hình Việt Nam hiện đại (Ký Hệu Hội Viên), 2009, Nhà Xuất Bản Mỹ Thuật, Hà Nội
Vietnam Fine Arts Museum
International Private Collections
1985 – National Fine Arts Exhibition, Vietnam
2002 – Capital Fine Arts Exhibition, Vietnam
2011 – Teacher’s Art Exhibition at the Vietnam Fine Arts University, Vietnam
Singapore Art Camp Exhibition
1980 – Member of the Fine Arts Association
Associate Professor of Painting Department at the Vietnam Fine Arts University
1984 – First Prize at the Fine Arts Exhibition of Military Force, Vietnam
1985 – First Prize at the National Fine Arts Exhibition, Vietnam
2002 – First Prize at the Capital Fine Arts Exhibition, Vietnam
2007 – State Award for Literature and Art, Vietnam
Silver Leaf Prize at the Fine Arts Exhibition for International Contemporary Artists, Rome, Italy
REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES:
 Lê Anh Vân Biography, Witness Collection.
 Interview with Lê Anh Vân, 25 November 2019, Witness Collection, Hanoi.