Chan Doan 

Creation Story

Birthplace: North Vietnam, 1954

Education: Doan is a self-taught artist with no formal art education. "It is a gift," he says of his ability.

Where you can see his work: At businesses owned by Doan's family: Classic Nails, 11643 Midlothian Turnpike, and Pho Tay Do, a Vietnamese restaurant in the West End.


When he started making art: Doan began painting when he was about 14 and living in Vietnam. His love of color led him to experiment with paints. He would collect pictures from magazines and newspapers and try to copy them. To this day, Doan's home is filled with stacks of pictures he has saved, and many of the women depicted in the life-sized plywood cutouts that decorate his son's nail salon were copied from these pictures. "If someone wants to bring him a picture, he can paint it exactly," says Doan's son, Kha. Indeed, from a distance, Doan's art is so realistic it looks like a photograph.

How he came to America: Doan, his wife and eight of his nine children immigrated to America about eight years ago. One of Doan's children is adopted and is half-American which made it easier for the family to come to the United States.

Doan, who was in the Vietnamese military from 1972 to 1975, left behind a small food-vending business to seek a better life for his family in the U.S. After spending about seven months in the Philippines studying English and learning about American culture, the family came to Richmond.

"It was a freak case," Kha says, when asked how the family ended up in Richmond. "We had no relatives and no friends here. [Immigration] just picked it for us."

When he paints: Until recently, Doan was too busy working at a medical-supply company to find much time to paint. But all that changed about five months ago, when the family purchased the nail salon and restaurant, and Doan was able to leave his full-time job. Now, although he works part-time at Wendy's to help pay for health insurance, he has free time in which he can work on his art. Whenever he has a chance, he retreats to his studio in the basement of his South Side home to work on a painting.

His greatest hope is that someday he can be a professional artist and devote all his time to painting.

Materials he uses: Doan paints with watercolors, oils and acrylics on either canvas or plywood. He wishes he knew English better so that he could further explore the vast array of art supplies available in America.

"He has a little bit of trouble when he goes to a shop to buy supplies," his son explains. "He doesn't know what things are and what they are used for. In Vietnam, art supplies are very expensive or are unavailable. Here we can find them everywhere.

"He wishes to learn more about [art] and wishes he could find someone who could speak Vietnamese well who could teach him more about art."

What inspires him: Doan says he is inspired by beauty, whether it is a beautiful picture in a magazine or a beautiful scene he conjures in his imagination. "I paint to describe the beauty of things," Doan says, as his son translates from Vietnamese. "I want to portray the emotions. … That's what an artist does."

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