• Battlefield and Propaganda Artist - Retired Director of the Military Museum, Hanoi - Consultant to the Dogma Collection


    Above, approaching Khe Sanh. A watercolour completed by Pham Thanh Tam in December 1967.

    Pham Thanh Tam enjoys a unique status as a prominent member of a rare group of elite Vietnamese battlefield and propaganda artists. With the publication in 2005, of his illustrated journal from the Battle of Dien Bien Phu entitled, Drawing Under Fire, Pham Thanh Tam attained international recognition.

    Drawing Under Fire is a Thames & Hudson publication, with a Foreword by Jessica Harrison-Hal, Curator of Vietnamese Art, the British Museum. It is edited by Sherry Buchanon (see link at bottom of this article).

    Artist Tam has the unique distinction of being present at the day siege of the French at Dien Bien Phu and then, some thirteen years later, during the height of the Vietnam - American War, at the siege of the American marine firebase at Khe Sanh in January 1968, from which time the above water colour work is dated. It was painted when troops paused to refresh themselves at a stream. The moment inspired Tam to ask the soldier, who forms the subject of the painting, to pause and pose for him.

    This eloquent and quintessential painting of a warrior dappled in light infiltrating through a thick forest canopy provides an example of a painting style often referred to as 'Poetic Realism'. It's a style where one can readily see the lingering influence the French introduced in the classes of the Hanoi Fine Arts Institute. Divergent cultures converge in a beautifully modulated work that speaks with a unique Indochinese voice.

    Tam's artistic talents were forged as a youth under the gunfire of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. The works following that depict a marching soldier on the jacket of his book, and a beautiful portrait of a singer attached to the army, are but two examples of the unique style of Colonel Pham Thanh Tam. [read more...]


  • Drawing Under Fire ? Book cover featuring a marching soldier completed in graphite pencil in 1954, the same year as the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. [read more...]


  • A young female singer attached to the ?Van Nghe? (the ?Literature and Arts? Division of the Armed Forces), at Dien Bien Phu. A watercolour completed in 1954 by Pham Thanh Tam. [read more...]


  • Above, the Dien Bien Phu battlefield in 1955, one year after the historic event. A watercolour by Pham Thanh Tam.

    Tam returned home to Hanoi the year following the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and was moved to see flowers growing through a shattered French helmet. The above work was painted on a page of his notebook, hence the script visible through the transparency of the paper.

    Even in 1956 there was a shortage of material for artists to work with and recycling of this kind goes some way to herald what was to come when maps, charts, posters, and even fine life drawings were re-used to produce propaganda posters. Examples of this recycling may be found amid the ?On the Reverse Side' and 'The Forgotten Pictures' Galleries.

    Tam's talents were quickly noticed by his companions and superiors who recommended that he devote himself to drawing and writing about army life.

    In the intervening years that culminated in open conflict with the US, her allies and proxies, Tam carried on developing his skills and was involved with illustrative, propaganda and journalistic activities on behalf of the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), during the period when War was in the air and the National Liberation Front (NLF) was active in the South.

    Following is a design for the first issue of an army magazine. There were such limited printing resources at the time that the edition was produced by hand. [read more...]


  • Cover design for the first issue of the army magazine in 1961. A watercolour by Pham Thanh Tam.

    Tam was enrolled at the Institute of Fine Arts in Hanoi while maintaining his military commission. This College was the new manifestation of the same prestigious art school originally established by the French in the 1920's. The legacy of the traditional European approach to life drawing and painting with its origins in the Renaissance, was maintained and coupled with classical academy teaching. The coupling blended with the Vietnamese artistic spirit and produced remarkable results witnessed in the works of a generation of which Pham Thanh Tam and Le Lam, among others, provide spectacular and enduring examples.

    In 1964, Tam was sent on a field drawing trip from the College to Ha Long Bay. The work above is one example of his observations. Below, a coastal battery crew poses at rest for the artist. Note how, with a few deft touches, a face comes alive under the artist's hand. [read more...]


  • Guarding Ha Long Bay completed in 1964 in pen and wash by Pham Thanh Tam. [read more...]


  • Phan Thanh Tam holding a propaganda poster he designed during his art school period. It features soldiers marching under a full moon under the guidance of Uncle Ho. This image inspired a famous song: 'Bac van cung chung chau hanh quan' which became a widely known and popular 'hit' at the time, as well as a morale builder.

    In 1967, Tam embarked on the arduous and dangerous journey South on the Trung Son or Ho Chi Minh Trail, as it is known to the outside world. His was a quite rapid three month trek into South Vietnam and thus he became a rare and highly respected artist veteran who painted on the front lines of both the French and Vietnam - American Wars.

    Conceived as a strategy both to help maintain morale, and to spread propaganda art, artists of various disciplines were attached to a special 'Literature and Arts' Division of the Armed Forces called 'Van Nghe'. The artists included those who served in theatre groups, singers, writers, and dancers, most of whom travelled with, and sometimes even fought alongside, the combatants of the NVA regulars and NLF. [read more...]


  • A NVA camp in South Vietnam.? Watercolour by Pham Thanh Tam completed in 1967. [read more...]


  • Another NVA camp in South Vietnam.? Watercolour by Pham Thanh Tam also completed in 1967. [read more...]


  • A metal tube used to sound the alarm completed in ink and wash by Pham Thanh Tam in 1967.

    Following the Battle of Firebase Khe Sanh, Tam returned North and became the director and presenter of several group exhibitions featuring both propaganda and combat art. He gave Ho Chi Minh a personal guided tour on two occasions, such was the prestige in which Tam was held. [read more...]


  • Artist Tam, on the right, with President Ho Chi Minh a year before his death, discussing the works on display at an exhibition celebrating the Army?s anniversary, Hanoi, 22 December1968.

    In 1970, Tam made the long trek South for an extraordinary second time and chronicled events leading up to the final victory [read more...]


  • A Russian-made armoured vehicle with troops mounted aboard drawn by Pham Thanh Tam in 1972. [read more...]


  • A propaganda painting in oil on hemp by Pham Thanh Tam completed in 1973. [read more...]


  • A rare surviving battle-scared propaganda poster by Pham Thanh Tam printed by the wood block print method and hand coloured.

    Following the end of the Vietnam ? American War in April 1975, Tam was appointed director of the Military Museum in Hanoi. In the following photograph, he and General Giap (left) examine an exhibition of propaganda posters in 1976. [read more...]

  • Pham Thanh Tam and General Vo Nguyen Giap


    Colonel Phan Thanh Tam lives and works in Ho Chi Minh city. He is one of a rare handful of artists who drew and painted on the battle fronts of both the French and Ameican wars. Some 60% of his companion artists did not return. [read more...]