Built tall and big like an athlete, Craig Thomas, an American lawyer living in HCMC, has the cold and odd manner of an Englishman making him seem unfriendly at first and making people hesitate to approach him. Such feelings soon vanish, however, upon speaking to Thomas and it quickly becomes apparent that he has a passion for art and a love of Vietnamese artists.
A lift for Vietnamese art talents
By My Tran in HCMC
Craig Thomas poses for a photo at the exhibition of Luong Luu Bien called Fossil at his gallery at 27-I Tran Nhat Duat Street, HCMC's District 1 - Photo: My Tran Built tall and big like an athlete, Craig Thomas, an American lawyer living in HCMC, has the cold and odd manner of an Englishman making him seem unfriendly at first and making people hesitate to approach him. Such feelings soon vanish, however, upon speaking to Thomas and it quickly becomes apparent that he has a passion for art and a love of Vietnamese artists.
Thomas makes a strong first impression on those he meets with his northern accented Vietnamese delivered in a humorous and engaging style. He brushes off praise, however, adding modestly, “I’ve lived in Vietnam 15 years so I don’t think it should be a surprise at all that I speak Vietnamese.”
Perhaps 15 years is enough time for Thomas to have gained insight into Vietnamese culture and customs but also the Vietnamese art market and the talents of young Vietnamese artists. He says, “Young Vietnamese artists have not yet had much of a chance to promote their work to international collectors but nonetheless they are doing their best to keep up with contemporary trends in the art world.” In an effort to help, Thomas has opened a gallery in Ho Chi Minh City at which he has organized a number of exhibitions for painters based in the city.
Thomas first became involved with the Vietnamese art scene on a serious basis in 2004 when he began
managing the operations of the Saigon branch of the Hanoi Studio gallery. While there he organized numerous shows and developed several young artists whose work is now very successful. Thomas says, “The chance to help a talented young person fully discover and exploit his talent and offering a way for him to make a living from art is why I became involved in the art scene.”
People tend to think that buying art is a privilege of the well-to-do and that in a developing country like Vietnam there cannot be a real art market as in other more economically developed countries like the US, France or Hong Kong. Thomas disagrees with this premise, however, believing that there is an increasingly growing segment of the Vietnamese population that are potential purchasers of Vietnamese art. He says, “I would rather target Vietnamese customers in the long term as they tend to have a greater appreciation for and understanding of the artists and unlike the foreigners they do not move away constantly.”
Thomas would like to see a better infrastructure created to assist young Vietnamese artists in their efforts to succeed. In Thomas’ view the Vietnamese art scene is on the threshold of a real breakthrough and artists need to be encouraged financially and otherwise. “I think it would be great if the government could offer stipends and other assistance to allow more Vietnamese artists to pursue their craft full-time. If possible, more money should be spent on providing more venues for artists to show their work.”
Thomas has opened a free English class for the artists that he works with. “I hope they will be able to introduce and discuss their work in English with collectors from all over.”
Thomas is currently hosting an exhibition of new paintings by the artist Luong Luu Bien at his HCMC gallery. The exhibition, entitled Fossils, depicts human like figures in diverse postures and states of emotion. Thomas says, “Bien is a compelling young artist with a unique painting style and his works lure
viewers in numerous ways: the varied and interesting use of color, the strong and refined composition of his subjects and not least the evidence of an artist whose mind is hard at work.” The exhibition runs until the end of the month at the Craig Thomas Gallery, 27i Tran Nhat Duat Street, District 1, HCMC.