I secluded myself in my studio for 8 years (2002-2009), discovered hand embroidery (an endangered medium) and trained 9 deaf and mute Vietnamese girls in an embroidery technique using one thread. It is only since July 2009 that I decided that I was ready to exhibit my work.

Je suis resté cloîtré durant huit ans dans mon atelier (2002-2009) après avoir découvert la broderie à la main (un métier en voie de disparition). J'ai formé neuf jeunes filles sourdes et muettes à une technique de broderie à un fil. Ce n’est qu’en Juillet 2009 que je me suis senti prêt à présenter mon travail.
"1984" 97 x 97 cm, Singl thread Hand-embroidery on cotton

My artistic approach:
- The basic shape of squares is important in my work. We are living in a period of over consumption, which results in an artificial demand to always create new visual shapes.
- My work is a critical reaction against this saturation of creative production, whose differentiation aim tends to give more importance to the form rather than the content itself.
- I prefer researching my square shapes and developing them rather than trying to impose myself via new forms.
- My work is based on sensibility, emotions and not on standards of beauty, not on the obvious beauty (the one too close to perfection).

- Repetition is also important in my work as it allows my mark making gestures to become subconscious, a simple automatism. The work thus produced is very free and light, and its own soul is then allowed to emerge.
- By using repetition, I try to extract some emotions out of our everyday reality because even though if my repetitive gestures are not always visible in each of my creations, they relate to all our daily moves and this way, my work is being created from all those little things that make our life.

Mon approche artistique:
- J’accorde de l’importance aux carrés, à leurs formes basiques. La surenchère qui nous incite à toujours rechercher des formes nouvelles est due à notre époque de surconsommation.
- J’agis aussi par critique envers la saturation de la production qui en cherchant à se différencier va jusqu'à rendre la forme plus importante que le fond.
- Je préfère exploiter les carrés et les faire évoluer plutôt que de chercher à (m’) imposer (par) des formes nouvelles.
- J’ai axé mon travail sur la sensibilité, l’émotion et non sur les canons de beauté, la beauté évidente (pur, celle se rapprochant de la perfection).

- La répétition a elle aussi son importance dans mon travail, car elle finit par libérer mon geste jusqu’a devenir non réfléchi, simplement automatique, elle amène à quelque chose de naturel, de léger, j’ai l’impression alors que l’âme de la création en cours s’en dégage.

- Je chercher à dégager des sentiments de vie de réalité du quotidien, car même si mes gestes répétitifs ne sont pas forcement visible sur chacune de mes créations, ils correspondent à tous nos gestes quotidiens, et l’œuvre se construit ainsi par tous ces petits riens qui font notre vie.

Lionel Descostes
Born in France 17 May 1966, living and working in Hanoi since 2000.


1991-1996:     "les ateliers, E.N.S.C.I. (Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle)," Paris,

1990-1991:     "Art History", Nanterre University,

1989-1990:     "Polycrea art school", Paris,

1988-1989:     "Baccalaureat", Lyon,

1982-1985:     "Compagnons du Devoir du tour de France" as Metalworker, Reims.


July 2016:       Solo exhibition "Dear my friends" BACC (Bangkok, Thailand),

June 2016:      Group exhibition Topaz gallery (NY, USA),

Aug. 2013:      Group exhibition (Dijon, France),

Sep. 2012:      Group exhibition (Tonnerre, France),

Feb. 2011:      Solo exhibition "From a stroke to the thread" (l'Espace: Institut Français de Hanoi),

Jan. 2011:      Permanent exhibition (Metropole Sofitel-Legend Hotel, Hanoi),

Oct. 2010:      Solo exhibition "Ten Years in Hanoi" with catalog (Bui gallery, Hanoi),

Oct. 2010:      Art Auction (British Council, Hanoi),

July 2010:       Finalist "third International Lace Award" (Power House Museum, Sydney),

Oct. 2009:      Group exhibition (frieze projects, London),

Oct. 2009:      Group exhibition (SG banking & Alliance francaise, Singapore),

Oct. 2009:      Group exhibition {city one minute} (Amsterdam and Shanghai),

Sep. 2009:      Group exhibition {tempography} (Goethe institute, Hanoi),

Aug. 2009:      Group exhibition (Bui gallery, Hanoi),

July 2009:       I started to show my work,

2002-2009:     I secluded myself in my studio for 8 years, discovered hand embroidery (an endangered medium) and trained some deaf and dumb Vietnamese girls to an embroidery technique using one thread.


2000-2002:     Factory Manager "The Lacquer Factory", Hanoi,

1997-2000:     Art study trip and free lance as furniture and interior design, Tokyo, Singapore and Indonesia,

1996-1997:     Furniture and strategy game designer, Paris,

1986-1988:     Truck driver, France,

1985-1986:     National Army, France,

1982-1985:     Metalworker, Reims.


Solo exhibition February 15 2011



Mai Chi on Embroidery Exhibition by Lionel Descostes

Posted: 24 Feb 2011. Filed under: Opinion, Art.
Mai ChiLionel Descostes at L'Espace
Mai Chi is a Hanoi-based arts commentator and contributes to various online media. This is his first contribution to Hanoi Grapevine.

The Soul of Repetition: The Embroidery of Lionel Descostes

In the past we have seen a number of contemporary artists who have taken on the Vietnamese lacquer technique and reinvented it for their artistic practice. French artist Lionel Descostes is the first one who does the same with Vietnamese embroidery, moving it out of the realm of traditional craft and semi-artistic production catering to tourism, onto the stage of contemporary art. The show Du trait au fil, which opened on 15 Feb at the French cultural center L’Espace, exhibits the results of his engagement and preoccupation with the medium.

Lionel Descostes
Lionel Descostes

The body of work in the exhibition loosely falls into two groups. One is more austere and takes the shape of the square, one of the most basic shapes, as point of departure. In “Les carres et les cousins”/“The squares and their family” (2008), rows of squares, in slight variations and looking imperfect by the nature of hand-made work, fill the canvas in anonymity, refusing to stand out. The green and yellow on black background give a humble, unagitated feel similar to stitched decorations of some mountainous minorities. Most captivating is “Humeur du jour 6” (2006), a series of five large formats, showing straight, finely tuned pastel lines forming dense grids which, in their 3D quality, almost hover above the white background. Standing up close, eyes following the criss-cross of the lines for a while, one starts to feel an hypnotic pull exerted by the pictures.

The other group of works are more playful, most are of smaller size and very different to the squares inspired works. Some, like the series “Famille heureuse” / “Happy family” (2008) (again, the theme of family!) look like simple, conventional drawings, half ornaments, half morphed jelly-fish. Others, like “Rencontres” / “Reunion” (2008) or “Mode d’emploi” / “Instruction manual” (2008), are loose collections of curvy lines, arranged into a careful mess and placed right in the center, against patches of bright colors. The way these works deploy fully colored surfaces defies expectations of sketchy pictures one often has with traditional embroidery.

"humeur du jour", Single-thread Hand-embroidery on fabric, 2006

“humeur du jour” (2006)

"mode d'emploi", Single-thread Hand-embroidery on taffetas, 2008

"télévision", Single-thread Hand-embroidery on taffetas, 2008
The L’Espace show is the second one of the artist in Hanoi, and compared to the exhibition in Bui Gallery last November, Descostes seems to make a different choice of what to present; most notably the pop art oriented works of last year are absent, which makes the current show more cohesive. On the opening night, Descostes came in a white shirt and jeans. He is a middle-aged man who has a calm and thoughtful look, exactly like someone who has spent years in a solitary studio, devoting himself to the lonely, laborious and repetitive work of hand stitching. For him, the process is important. His statements are full of terse numbers which a matter-of-fact document the latest period of his life: 10 years in Hanoi, 8 years in a secluded studio, 9 speech- and hearing-impaired assistants. But Descostes does not see repetitive labor as a necessary evil he has to endure; for him repetition has an emotional significance. A simple line on a drawing would take just a quick hand movement. The same line, embroidered, would take thousands of stitches. An embroidery work is made up of a sheer enormity of simple, unspectacular gestures, exactly like the way we live our lives.

Internationally, stitching techniques have established a firm place in the practices of contemporary artists. According to David McFadden from Museum of Arts and Design, New York, embroidery began to surface in the contemporary art world in the last decades of the 20th century. While at first it was used mostly by female artists who came from the association it has with women’s work, this distinction is gone and nowadays men and women alike are exploring stitching techniques to express their artistic ideas. In 2007, the museum organized a terrific international show called “Pricked: Extreme Embroidery” showing a stunningly wide range of embroidery works of 48 artists from 17 countries. In Vietnam’s art scene, the work of Lionel Descostes is refreshing: you don’t need to do video or performance to be contemporary; you can tear down barriers between genres and bring up innovative perspectives by going back to techniques and materials dating from ancient times.

Lionel Descostes’ show “Du trait au fil” runs from 15 Feb to 4 Mar 2011, at L’Espace – 24 Tràng Tiền, Hà Nội.

Also read KVT’s review of Lionel Descostes’ earlier show at the Bui Gallery.

Photos by Boris Zuliani (‘Television (detail)’ and portrait of Lionel), Larissa Gehrke (exhibition view at top of post) and Dominic Blewett (all others).

Television (detail)
"télévision" (detail)

Mai Chi is a Hanoi-based arts commentator and has been contributing to various online media. 

Solo exhibition October 29 2010

LIONEL DESCOSTES - Ten years in Hanoi from Vincent Baumont on Vimeo.


KVT – Lionel Descostes Embroidery Exhibition

Posted: 05 Nov 2010. Filed under: Opinion, Art

"square set 2" 88 x 83 cm, Single-thread Hand-embroidery on fabric, 2006

Beautifully Stitched Up

I think that just about everyone would find something to love at the Bui Gallery’s latest offering. The exhibition is called ‘Ten Years in Hanoi (Embroidery Work)’ which could, perhaps, imply that embroidery sits in the craft category or that the exhibitor is a craftsperson rather than an artist.
Not that this matters as most crafts have always had outstanding and innovative practitioners whose work is prominently displayed in major museums of art throughout the world and nowadays a plethora of artists/craftpersons amalgamate art and craft techniques into their practices and blur the boundaries that purists like to lay down.
Bui exhibitor, Lionel Descostes, has added a new dimension to embroidery in Vietnam not that Vietnam is short of brilliant embroiderers. I’m sure that Descostes would attest to that and quickly name a score or two and much of his work would hold its own any first rate, fine arts gallery.
My favorite works are the abstract ones. The grid of 32 small works that make up “Influences” (2006) are really stunning. Like so much of Descostes work, it’s the presentation that takes the work from excellent to WOW! This is shown to huge effect in another stunning work downstairs, ‘The First One’( 2003) in its lime green lacquer frame that refers to and balances the gorgeously embroidered grid.
Upstairs I was totally captivated and mesmerized by the four ‘Square Sets’(2006) that allow your eyes to journey on, into and through the threads.
When he adds faces and masks to his work he loses me a bit, though I still really love exploring the detailed often layered hand embroidery. I’m in a minority of viewers when I state that the figurative touches don’t move me. Most, though, will drool over the exceedingly clever ‘Mutation’ (2004) and the fascinating ‘Creation’ series (2008).
You can see why the theatrical and attention arresting ‘Competition’ (2005) sold immediately, with its muted silvers and hints of rich red on a black background and a slight resonance, some may suggest, to Klimt .
Anyone with a passion for embroidery would be rather silly to miss this exhibition and likewise any art lovers who just want to see a selection of beautifully displayed, beautiful art.

"identification" 75 x 74 cm, Single-thread Hand-embroidery on taffeta, 2008

"creation 2" 102 x 59 cm, Single-thread Hand-embroidery on fabric, 2008 

 "competition" 132 x 130 cm, Single-thread Hand-embroidery on cotton, 2005

Prices reflect the creative effort and extremely concentrated work that has gone into each piece and it is the realization of this talented effort that makes you gasp anew.
PS: try to get a look at the very handsome catalogue that accompanies the exhibition.

Not a reviewer, not a critic, “Kiếm Văn Tìm” is an interested, impartial and informed observer and connoisseur of the Hanoi art scene who offers highly opinionated remarks and is part of the long and venerable tradition of anonymous correspondents. Please add your thoughts in the comment field below.

Art Auction October 1 2010


"days in Hanoi" 76 x 73 cm, hand-embroidery on taffeta

France Singapore New Generation of Artists October 21 2009


"we're a happy family -3" 84 x 60 cm, hand-embroidery on taffeta

"tracks -3" 63 x 53 cm, hand-embroidery on taffeta

 detail "tracks-3"


"Hello to you" 94 x 65 cm, numeric print on films


"Portrait" 105 x 79 cm. drawing on paper


"portrait" detail "drawing

"daily life" 70 x 100 cm, drawing on paper

"transportation -1" 60 x 80cm, drawing on traditional paper

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