Born in 1948 in Cau Den Hamlet in Bac Giang Province, Thành Chương was a child prodigy and began painting at the age of seven. He moved to Hanoi with his family in 1954. His father Kim Lân was a well-known writer and his sister Nguyễn Thị Hiền was already an established artist. After he finished high school, artist Thành Chương became a soldier to fight against the French armed forces. After fulfilling his civic responsibility as a soldier in the army for ten years, Thành Chương returned to Hanoi and worked as a lead art designer for the Van Nghe newspaper and soon established his position in the field of fine arts. Thành Chương later became famous across the world when his painting titled “Love” was chosen by the United Nation as the symbol for the International Year of Volunteers in 2001.
Critic Nguyễn Quân once described him by saying that if Vietnamese fine art is like a map then Thành Chương is a famous location on that map and an artist that has moved incrementally from war art to innovation art and then to contemporary art with absolute ease. Poet Bế Kiến Quốc, a colleague at Van Nghe newspaper, composed a poem to praise the artist's works. His poem described how Thành Chương’s art was hidden in every wonderful piece of human world, in colors of infinity, prayer and a perfect restoration of a devastated world.
Buyers vying to purchase
When referring to artist Thành Chương, many also know him as the owner of a special house in Soc Son District in the capital city of Hanoi. His special house is large, and has typical features of Vietnamese traditional culture in its structure. Many famous international celebrities have come to Vietnam and visited Thành Chương's Vietnamese house. The huge amount of money to build this magnificent house all came from sale of his paintings as Thành Chương has been among Vietnam’s top artists for more than three decades.
Art collectors agree that artist Thành Chương's paintings are not cheap, but they still sell well and are in much demand. Thành Chương does not need to show his paintings at an art exhibition, as buyers are continually vying to purchase his works. Thành Chương says he only paints from his heart and does not paint to satisfy public taste. He feels that if he was to paint only to satisfy the public then nobody would buy his works as they would lack his creativity.
Self-portraits and buffaloes
Two features are prominent in Thành Chương’s paintings, which are his self-portrait and buffaloes. He paints buffaloes from different angles and in different colors and compositions. The paintings stand out as beautiful, warm and inspiring. He has painted so many pictures of buffaloes that many think that he used to be a buffalo boy for many years in his childhood. In fact, he just only looks at buffaloes and paints them because he loves farms and the countryside. His interest in buffaloes is so deeply entrenched that he can paint countless numbers of buffalo pictures in a row.
He says that a buffalo is not only important for a farmer, but it is also a member of a Vietnamese family. A Vietnamese farmer's life used to be bonded to a buffalo once upon a time. In their childhood, many children in the countryside had to take care of their house buffaloes. If a buffalo was healthy, strong and clean, the boy would be praised for his effort in taking care of the animal. As adults, Vietnamese farmers had to work with buffaloes, and when they became old, they returned to taking care of their buffaloes. This showed that a buffalo was extremely relevant to Vietnamese daily life.
Artist Thành Chương has painted different images of buffaloes, such as buffaloes on a farm, buffaloes having a bath in a river or canal, buffaloes walking with people while harvesting a crop, and buffaloes shivering in the cold weather. The buffalo in Thành Chương's paintings is a character with special emotions, and many collectors choose to buy Thành Chương's buffalo paintings because of the subtle emotion they exude. Each buffalo painting exudes a new feeling and emotion, expressed in simple lines and colors.
Year of the Buffalo
This year is the year of the Buffalo, when artist Thành Chương will turn 73. Now he shows a bald head and wears glasses, but is still very healthy and sharp in mind. He still paints and still receives orders for buffalo paintings. He sells off a painting almost as soon as it is complete. He has plenty of money and believes that money is one of the things that shows the real value of a piece of art. Nobody will pay money for something of no value, so if someone is willing to pay a large sum of money for a work of art, the work must be truly valuable.
Artist Thành Chương has gone through three marriages. After his marriage to a woman named Hòa, he married actress Thanh Quý. Later he married journalist Ngô Hương, who inspired him and a poem written by him under the pen name Trương Cuốc Triến describe this emotion. Words in the poem talk about him being scared when going out with his wife and glancing at another woman in scant white blouse with thin shoulder straps, and by even a quick glance at another woman his wife would sulk for days.