A rolling stone from Ethiopia

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Trhas Gutsche, a painter from Ethiopia, likes to paint Vietnamese women wearing ao dai

Trhas Gutsche followed her German diplomat husband to Ho Chi Minh City three years ago. After 30 years of globe-trotting and painting what she saw, she began traveling around Vietnam and capturing the people and life of her new home-away-from-home on canvas.

The suntanned fifty-something, who looks somewhat Mediterranean and still has the curiosity and untamed eyes of a child, likes above all to paint Vietnamese women wearing their ao dai.

She is riveted by the shape, style, patterns and color schemes of the traditional dress, which is why she has painted it so many times.

Trhas's situation has afforded her plenty of time and opportunity to see Vietnam in all its diversity over the past three years. Her admiration of this land is more than one might expect.

Sa Pa is a particular favorite. When she visited the town in the northwestern mountains, Trhas was stunned by the vivid costume of the tribal women and by the majestic scenery all around.

The inspirational landscape compelled her to paint everything she saw, everything that burned an unforgettable image in her mind.

Artistic expression

Trhas, a graduate of Montgomery College in Maryland, USA, is reluctant to express herself in words; she would rather convey her feelings and emotions in color.

In her thirty years of marriage to a roaming diplomat, Trhas has lived in and experienced Jordan, India, Dubai, Belgium, America, and now Vietnam.

She has been painting all that time and exhibited her work at galleries and functions in the USA, Belgium, Germany, Dubai and HCMC.

Her art has a rhythm of incessant movement, her pictures are vibrant and her colors are wild, as befitting a woman who grew up in the highlands of Ethiopia and has since spent her time in exotic places.

Whether a woman of Dubai, a Vietnamese tribal woman in an ao dai or a scene in India, Trhas's subjects are imbedded with beauty and a sense of freedom, even abandonment.

She feels that her travels and living in different places have transformed her life and her art.

Each place is unique in its culture and people, and she's found it fascinating to observe and learn from a different perspective each time, and translate the experience into her own "language of art," as she puts it.

Everything she sees on her travels excites her. She wants to paint it all, and she does.

"I want to capture all the fine points of contrast, in color and shapes," she says.

Free spirit

Trhas says she finds peace and joy when she's concentrating on her painting, and loses herself in a world of fantasy filled with adventures in color.

"Sometimes art is like a mentor to me, like when I want to avoid certain emotions. It keeps my mind from being angry, sad or depressed."

Just like her paintings, Trhas was innovative and daring when she began a new life beyond Ethiopia three decades ago.

"It was a difficult time to be a student as we were always being watched. We couldn't go out in the evening. And it was hard to convince my family," Trhas says, referring to her decision to get married and seek a life outside her homeland.

Life continued to be tough even after her wedding as it took six months for her to obtain a passport, and after finally getting away she felt unable to return home for a long time.

"For a while I couldn't go back to Ethiopia; I was scared that I would be detained there," she recalls.

"At school I learned about other countries, yet I believed that only my country existed. It wasn't until I left that I started to respect and love Ethiopia. We are a poor country but we have a big heart."

When she moved to Germany, Trhas wondered why her country could not develop as others. It was a question she had never asked herself before.

"We have the people, the resources and a perfect climate, but when you're isolated you can't gain much knowledge," she says with a sigh.

Her next exhibition, Contrast + Rhythm, will be held in HCMC like her earlier show, and is scheduled to open on November 4.

She will be displaying her work alongside that of the Vietnamese artist Kim Chi. Says Trhas, "She and I come from different cultures, style and artistic heritage, but we both express color abstractly."

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