The Genteel
February 23, 2020


Artwork by Hanh Tran.
Hanh Tran and her "American Heroes" piece at
the Helping a Hero Gala in Houston, Texas.

On October 24, the annual Helping a Hero Gala was held in Houston, Texas to raise money for wounded veterans across America. This year, the gala's focus was on building specially-designed homes to accommodate veterans with disabilities. One of the gala's main attractions was its auction, to which artists, designers and local supporters donated their work. American artist Hanh Tran was invited to participate with a painting and she offered a 48" x 48" oil-on-canvas of the American flag, entitled American Heroes. In the end, the painting - which Tran asked all soldiers in attendance to sign - raised US$50,000 for the cause, and was the auction's second most valuable item. 

The daughter of Vietnamese-Chinese immigrants, Tran didn't set out to be an artist and her success has been a surprise to everybody - including herself. "I majored in Science and was going to be a pediatrician," she says. "In Asian culture, we were taught to be a doctor or a lawyer, not an artist." She adds that for her family, the motto was always, "an artist does not pay the bills; we should paint as a hobby, not a career."

Fortunately for the art world, Tran listened to her instincts. She started painting when she was 21 (she's now 36). "It all started when I was stressed out, getting ready to take the MCAT and I needed another outlet to release my stress," she explains. At the time, she was living with a roommate who had taken an art class and had art supplies lying around. "I decided to paint one night and I never stopped," she says. 

In fact, for years [Tran] painted in secret and didn't show anybody her work.

"When I broke the news to my mother she was devastated," Tran says. It took her working two jobs and painting in her free time for years before she started painting full-time. In fact, for years she painted in secret and didn't show anybody her work. Her first solo exhibit didn't happen until 2006, when she presented the "Hanh Tran Debut" Solo Exhibit at the Kreiss Collection in Houston. 

Tran's art is alive with dimension and shadows; it is characterised by thick oil paints and heavy brush strokes, resulting in a strong three-dimensional feel. She paints mostly abstracts and simple shapes and figures, such as a starfish, a ballerina's silhouette or a windmill in the distance. She describes her work as a "self-study of the human form, nature, culture and emotion."

Since October 2011, however, Tran has been designing her own line of evening bags and clutches. She explains that it was a spur-of-the-moment thing: "I go to a lot of events and I always find myself searching for a nice hand bag [to carry]," she says. When she couldn't find one that she loved, she decided to paint one herself. "It started out as something personal for myself, but I received so many compliments and request[s] to paint more bags from my clients and strangers that I started to carry my own line as part of my art that I created."

Hanh Tran Houston artist
A clutch designed by Tran.

Tran's bags are sewn by hand using canvas and a polyester blend for lining. Tran then hand paints her signature throughout the lining before moving on to paint the bag's exterior. And paint she does, with thick, abstract layers of paint (to maintain the 3D look she's known for) and a lot of colour. "I use fabric paint so it is safe to the touch," Tran explains. "It is wearable art." Tran says she chooses colours and designs that she feels "go with everything, from a nice evening gown to a cute pair of jeans." 

Tran believes art can be healing, which is why she runs the Hanh Gallery Art + Wellness programs. The heart of the program is her Art + Wellness Program, which she runs on site at hospitals, nursing homes and healthcare facilities. She also offers personal art lessons and art parties for groups. When asked about her work - both her professional and philanthropic endeavours - Tran says she can't imagine herself doing anything else. "I'm very blessed that I can wake up every day and do what I love to do," she says. "Not everyone gets to go to work and follow their passion." 



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