Using food as his muse, André Derainne illustrates a delicious depiction of Ho Chi Minh City

The French illustrator has created a culinary portrait of the thriving Vietnamese city. We caught up with him to hear more.

1 June 2020

“Like most, I’ve been drawing since I was a kid,” says French illustrator André Derainee. A somewhat usual start to his journey, André had a clear path in mind; he always knew he wanted to become an illustrator. This meant that as soon as he started school he had just one desire, which was to rush out of at the end of the day to get back to his drawings – “rather than studying a whole bunch of things that seemed perfectly useless to me,” he adds.

It’s no secret that your immediate surroundings can have a lasting impact on the type of work that you end up in. For André, his parents had both studied art in school so were of great importance to his creative upbringing. Drawing as such became habitual, and it was something that they – as a family – would enjoy together. “When we went on holiday, we always stopped at some point during our walks to sketch the landscape,” he continues to explain of his influences. Then, ten years later after receiving his baccalaureate, André passed the Concours of the Arts Décoratifs school of Strasburg and was admitted to study the medium for five years, up until 2017.

Inspired by that around him, André prefers to call himself a spectator, rather than an illustrator. “I’m a little wary of influences coming form illustration, perhaps for fear of unconscious plagiarism,” he says. Instead, he seeks out more innovative routes to his work, “because the whole point, even if it’s difficult, is to invent new ways of drawing, new colour schemes and new textures.” When deciding on his colour palettes, for instance, cinema, fashion and what he sees in the street are key players in the process, which sit alongside the additional pillars of literature and theatre. An example of which can be seen in his new book that he’s making, which is very much inspired by the “poor quality images” of the streets of Ho Chi Minh City that he came across on the internet and Google Street View – “it gives me a lot of drawing ideas!”


André Derainne: The Belly of Saigon

Within this book, you’ll stumble across a wide-spanning array of illustrations, all focusing on a “culinary portrait of Ho Chi Minh City”. In 2019 André was accepted into the French institute’s artistic residency in the city, during which he had to think about working on a project in an area he hadn’t yet gotten to know. Turning towards the early part of 20th century art and literature as his muse, he was inspired to take note of artists that looked at the great modern metropolises and those who placed them at the centre of their work. “At that time, artists were mainly interested in the great Western capitals,” he says. “Today, the metropolises are in Asia and they are even more gigantic!” Resultantly, he wanted to work on a portrait of Ho Chi Minh City, just as he would a portrait of a person.

This portrait gravitates around André’s keen interest in cooking, which is a important part of Vietnamese culture: “cooking is very important, you can find small restaurants absolutely everywhere,” he says. “During my residency I walked around the city, trying to go everywhere from the richest to the most remote neighbourhoods – each time to taste the kitchen in these different places.” He continues to explain how food is a main component to his work, and that it can serve as a prominent tool to visually speak about the place that you’re in. “I thought that talking about a city through the food was a good way to discover it.”

All set to be published by Kéribus editions, this graphic novel, titled The Belly of Saigon is a naive, simple yet painterly depiction of a thriving metropolis. Although with no clear message intended, André hopes to instil the sweet and savoury moments of a travel story, formed through a colourful documentation of his surroundings in Ho Chi Minh City.

GalleryAndré Derainne: The Belly of Saigon

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima. 

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