Phạm Thanh Tâm

Phạm Thanh Tâm (1932 – )

Early years

Phạm Thanh Tâm was born on 15 May 1932 in the northern port city of Hải Phòng, as the eldest son in a traditionally revolutionary family. His father worked for La Cimenterie, the French-owned cement works in the city. With the nationalist independence movement gaining momentum, his parents joined the Việt Minh in 1941 and Tâm’s father became a communist cadre. In late 1946, the French military attacked and occupied Hải Phòng. Tâm‘s family fled to the Việt Minh’s Military Zone III and Tâm became a liaison agent between Zone III and other structures. He joined a propaganda painting division there, where he studied how to sketch and paint revolutionary posters, murals and banners under the tuition of artists Lương Xuân Nhị, Mai Văn Nam and Bùi Xuân Phái.

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Mid career

After joining the Việt Minh resistance army in 1950, Tâm’s artistic and reporting skills were soon put to use when he was assigned to work for Quyết Thắng (‘Be Determined to Win’) newspaper. In his wartime writing and art works, he generally used the nom de plume Huỳnh Biếc to hide his real identity.

Following artillery training in China in 1952-53, Tâm participated in the Điện Biên Phủ campaign as a journalist and artist, living on the front lines and witnessing the hardships and daily life of soldiers and civilian volunteers. His diary and many of his images from Điện Biên Phủ have become known around the world, translated into English and French and published internationally.

In 1963, Tâm began official studies at Vietnam Fine Art College, graduating in 1967 after specialising in oil painting. Due to the escalating conflict with the United States, Tâm volunteered to join the front in the south and was present at Khe Sanh in 1968 during the famous battle, documenting it in his art works. He also witnessed sea action in Hạ Long Bay and was present in Hanoi during the intense 1972 Christmas bombings. Returning to the south via the Hồ Chí Minh trail, Tâm was with North Vietnamese army units when they overran Đà Nắng and Saigon, ending the war in April 1975.

Late years

After the war, Tâm collaborated with the Army’s official newspaper, Quân Đội Nhân Dân (‘People’s Army’), to stage many exhibitions of wartime art works. He was subsequently appointed director of the Army’s Art Workshop. In 1989, he retired and moved to Ho Chi Minh City.