HIS talent on the canvas has earned him accolades and his own TV show, but don't expect Anh Do to hold an exhibition of his artworks again any time soon.

He did two years ago and it was a sellout, but it left him stressed before and sad after.

"Before the exhibition, there was this deadline making it all feel a bit like work," Do says.

And I felt really sad afterwards because 12 of my favourite paintings were gone.

"I know that sounds weird, but I haven't had an exhibition since. I paint friends and family and give the piece to them, and then I get to re-live the painting when I go to their house to visit."

It's this same generosity of spirit that underpins Do's hit show Anh's Brush with Fame. Back for a third season, the ABC series - described as an art-slash-therapy session - sees Do paint a well-known Aussie's portrait as he interviews them, often coaxing candid stories and personal insights.

They're not paid to appear, but leave with an original Do artwork in their likeness.

Do has direct input into who's on the show, a compelling mix of Aussie celebrities, sports people and those who've done extraordinary things.

 

Anh Do is returning for a third season with his show Anh’s Brush with Fame. Picture: Stu Bryce
Anh Do is returning for a third season with his show Anh’s Brush with Fame. Picture: Stu Bryce

 

This season includes wildlife conservationist Terri Irwin, London bombing survivor Gill Hicks, AFL legend Adam Goodes, basketball star Lauren Jackson, The Project's Carrie Bickmore and scientist Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, whose reaction to his portrait had Do worried, given Kruszelnicki has a type of blindness that means he can't recognise people's faces.

Do says extracting stories from people while they pose for him feels organic.

"Say I'm painting my grandma and she's sitting there, I'll be having a yarn to her anyway, and her telling stories from 50 years ago and being in the war," he says.

"So, for me, it feels quite natural to paint someone and have a chat to them."

With previous seasons having elicited particularly personal interviews with TV presenter Amanda Keller, family violence campaigner Rosie Batty, and actors Magda Szubanski and Samuel Johnson, Do says Hicks and Jackson provide some profound moments in this series.

Jackson talks about the regular painkilling injections she endured during the final, injury-plagued years of her basketball career.

Anh Do and Carrie Bickmore in series three of the ABC series Anh’s Brush with Fame.
Anh Do and Carrie Bickmore in series three of the ABC series Anh’s Brush with Fame.

"She didn't want to let her teammates down," Do says. "We don't understand that when we're watching our favourite sports people. We don't realise there might have just been a bunch of needles go into their knee just to get them on the field."

And he was especially moved by Hicks' recount of the terrifying moments straight after the 2005 terrorist bombings in the London Underground. She was metres from one of the suicide bombers when the bomb detonated.

"There's complete darkness, underground, and there's smoke and she's missing both legs and having to wait hours for help to arrive," he says. "And she's wrestling with the decision to live or just go to sleep and end the pain.

"Also, she was telling how the survivors were doing a roll call. 'I'm Gill, and I'm still alive', then someone else says, 'I'm Bob' and 'I'm Tom' and they went around in a circle every few minutes. And as they kept going around, certain voices stopped saying, 'I'm still here'. I teared up.

"We hear about these things on the news, another bombing, but she takes us right in there and tells her story. And then she becomes an advocate for peace among different groups - to encourage different groups to talk and become friends. What an amazing woman."

Dancing With The Stars 2007 runners-up Anh Do with dance parnter Luda Kroitor.
Dancing With The Stars 2007 runners-up Anh Do with dance parnter Luda Kroitor.

Do, 41, is probably best known as a comedian, author and TV personality who was runner-up on Dancing with the Stars in 2007, reunited people on Long Lost Family and entertained with his travel series to countries including Vietnam and Brazil. But about eight years ago, he decided to focus on painting, too, after the death of his mate, Melbourne comedian Dave Grant, from pancreatic cancer.

"He got sick and I didn't even visit him," Do says. "I thought, 'He'll be sweet', because only a few months earlier we'd done a show together and he was explaining to me how to bench-press properly.

"I get a phone call and he's passed away. He was 50. It just really shocked me and made me think about all these things I wanted to do one day when I'd retired. And then I thought, 'Why don't I do that stuff now?', like painting, which I hadn't done for about 20 years."

His artworks - oil on linen and mostly only for sale as limited-edition prints - are made using brushes and palette knives as well as things such as forks and even a pasta strainer - much to his wife Suzanne's annoyance - for a five o'clock shadow effect on a portrait recently. Do paints at home, having set up his garage as a studio.

"My wife complains every now and then when there's bird poo on the car, saying she wouldn't mind getting the garage back," he says.

Anh Do in his painting studio. Picture: Hollie Adams
Anh Do in his painting studio. Picture: Hollie Adams

After winning several regional art awards, Do was a finalist in the Archibald Prize in 2014 for his emotive depiction of his father Tam, and last year won the people's choice award for his portrait of indigenous activist and actor Jack Charles.

Ahn Do is mobbed by school students at a book signing.
Ahn Do is mobbed by school students at a book signing.

"I'm really lucky," Do says. "Someone said to me the other day, if you won a billion dollars and didn't have to work again, how would you spend your day? I said I'd paint portraits, do the occasional comedy show and write silly stories for kids."

Dream achieved, because when he's not painting, Do writes childrens' books. His sales top two million, with 1.6 million of those for his WeirDo series about the adventures of a boy who struggles to fit in.

Anh Do and wife Suzanne on a Sydney red carpet in 2014.
Anh Do and wife Suzanne on a Sydney red carpet in 2014.

In the throes of penning his 16th kids' book, he's often inspired by his own children, sons Xavier, Luc and Leon, and daughter Summer, aged 14 to four.

"My youngest son, who's six, came home one day and says, 'Mum, my pants feel funny', so my wife and I check it out and turns out he's worn his undies back to front the whole day so, of course, that went straight into one of the books."

Do also often returns to his stand-up comedy and performance roots, currently touring a stage show of his 2010 award-winning memoir The Happiest Refugee. And he's still "nutting out" a screenplay based on the book after Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe bought the film rights.

In The Happiest Refugee, Do tells how he and his family fled war-ravaged Vietnam in 1980 on a 9m fishing boat crammed with 40 people. They came perilously close to losing their lives at sea and survived two pirate attacks, then spent several months in a Malaysian refugee camp before the family settled in Sydney when Do was 2½.

Anh Do aged six.
Anh Do aged six.

His father, a heavy drinker, walked out on the family when Do was 13, leaving his mum Hien to raise him, his brother Khoa (a future filmmaker and 2005 Young Australian of the Year) and sister Tram while earning $6 an hour in a clothing sweatshop.

Do was determined to lift his family from poverty, and after they were forced to move between rental properties about 20 times, he vowed to buy his mum a house.

"So I went to school and asked around and someone said lawyers make loads of money, so I thought, 'That's what I'll do'," Do says. "I finished year 12 and did five years of a law degree and then I'm in an interview with a law firm and the guy explains to me that he's doing about 60 hours a week and working really hard, and I thought to myself, , 'That's a bit too many hours for me'.

"At the time I was doing stand-up comedy as a hobby and asked my friend, Dave Grant, how many hours he was working, and he said about four. So I switched jobs really out of laziness."

He did buy his mum a house in 2000, and around the same time reconciled with his estranged dad, tracking him down in Melbourne after almost a decade of no contact.

"I thought I'd just visit once but I find out he's ill and he's got a new family. He's got a two-year-old kid who's my half-brother.

"I'm thinking, 'I'm just going to go and pretend this never happened' as he'd obviously moved on, then I said to Dad, 'The kid's really cute. What's his name?' and he said, 'Anh. I named him after you'.

"So I decided to come back and visit him some more. He's been in and out of health ever since."

Despite arriving in Australia as a refugee, Do has never spoken out about policies such as "stop the boats" - even though he accepts that people expect him to be vocal on such matters.

"I'm a comedian, not a politician," he says. "Some people are really political, but I'm just not that way.

"I'd never run for politics. I can't sit still for five minutes let alone be in those big long meetings you see on telly, which look really boring. I'd just start cracking jokes."

ANH'S BRUSH WITH FAME RETURNS ON WEDNESDAY, JULY 18, ABC, 8PM

 



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