Friday, February 15, 2008

Parinya Tantisuk On Chatchai Puipia

Parinya Tantisuk On Chatchai Puipia : The Art Critics of Siamrath Weekly’s Silpa Wattanatham Column

The first mention of Chatchai Puipia in the Silpa Wattanatham column in the decade of 1997 – 2007 is found in Parinya Tantisuk’s essay entitled ช้าง (Elephant), when the critic offers some good words on behalf of Thai Elephant Day. To illustrate the first part of his essay, Parinya cites some imaginative elephant motifs in the history of Thai art. He then concludes with a plea to his readers to take better care of Thailand’s own abused elephant population, both domestic and wild.
The dominant image on page one is a large cutout reproduction of a robust little clay pot with an elephant head and trunk for a handle:
‘…glazed brown ceramic - it is the art of Lopburi. Sometimes we designate the works of this period ‘Lawapura’ or ‘Lavo.’ This design is both strange and quite ordinary. The eyes of the elephant and the various embellishments are stuck on or scratched in very simply and directly, but in a very pleasing way. It was made in the 16th or 17th century BE and comes from the kilns of Buriram.’

[ ดินเผารูปช้างเคลือบสีน้ำตาล เป็นศิลปะลพบุรี บางครั้งเราเรียกศิลปกรรมในยุคนี้ว่า ศิลปะ ลวปุระหรือละโว้ งานชิ้นนี้ออกแบบได้ดูแปลกตา มีความเป็นพื้นบ้าน ดวงตาช้างและดอกดวงลวดลายต่างๆ ติดปะและขูดขีดอย่างง่ายๆ ซื่อๆ แต่ให้ความรู้สึกได้ดี สร้างในสมัยพุทธศตวรรษที่16-17 ผลิตจากแหล่งเตาเผาบุรีรัมย์’]

The illustration reproduces the bulky ceramic in a very appealing way. The curving, swelling edge seems to crowd aside the adjacent column of text as if the words were a mass of packing materials. The elephant’s head, protruding on the other side with an unblinking eye and a salamander-like trunk, forms the handle. The Thai word – ช้าง – is pasted boldly above, contrasting the stunned expression on the pot’s smooth ceramic face.
In many Asian traditions, Parinya notes, elephants share the charisma of kings and deities like the Master Teacher of artists, the elephant-headed lord, Phra Pikanete. Parinya refers to this object’s art historical pedigrees, and points to its patina of authenticity, its robust conjoining of the strange and the banal. With the illustration as an aid to imagination, the critic scans the reproduction’s hypothetical surface, the satisfyingly rounded weight, the deftly applied decorative markings . As Parinya’s words skillfully illuminate this rustic object from the kilns of Buriram, the clay pot becomes a radiant signifier of Thai history.
Using a second illustration, Parinya cites another, more cosmopolitan artifact – this one from ancient Ayutthaya - a charming little elephant made of gold. The reproduction manages to covey the animal’s delight as it inches forward to offer a jeweled bouquet. Parinya describes the art object pictured:
This artfully elegant golden pachyderm is embellished and fitted
with a jeweled harness. The design is lively, the pose charming.
The animal crouches to present itself, twisting a bit as it turns its head to gaze upward. With a respectful gesture, the curling trunk lifts to offer a delicate feathery bouquet. It is a very sophisticated work from the Ayutthaya period, more than 500 years old.

[งานประณีตศิลป์พระคชาธารทองคำประดับอัญมณีเป็นช้างทรงเครื่องผูก ออกแบบวางท่าทางได้น่ารักมีชีวิต ท่าย่อตัวหมอบพร้อมเอี้ยงตัวเล็กน้อยและแหนงมองสูงงวงม้วนจับชูช่อกนกดอกไม้เป็นเชิงเคารพเป็นงานชั้นสูงสมัยอยุธยา มีอายุเก่าแก่ 500 ปี ]

Parinya’s descriptive text, separated from the illustration, is placed lower down on the page. Like layers of bubble wrap, the text prevents the images from grating one upon the other. Further down, a descriptive paragraph is lodged like a buffering wedge, fending off the implied weight of the Lavo pot upon the exposed rump of Chatchai Puipia’s mixed media elephant – reproduced in miniature as a cutout at the bottom of the page.

Now Parinya turns the readers’ attention to three images reproduced from an old Thai textbook on the science of elephants. Each cameo is less than 2 inches’ square; the creatures pictured within are smaller still. The uppermost of the three, hardly bigger than a large postage stamp, is a depiction of the first elephant ever to exist in the universe. According to the ancient Thai text, the Triphumi Buddhist scripture states that 26 deities conjoined to form the very first elephant. Straining against the limits of it tiny frame, the diminutive pachyderm looks beautifully drawn. Though Lilliputian, it stands majestically on a dais, its enormous head, magnificent trunk and tusks uplifted. Its body swarms with Siamese deities, dancing as if on the head of a pin.

Parinya identifies the second figure in this miniscule set as a depiction of the mighty Erawan, steed of the Lord Indra. In the drawing’s unsettling glimpse, the elephant looks corpulent and cat-like. Its body strains forward, crowned by a rippling, blurred, mass of multiple heads, which seem to undulate weirdly like some horrifying anemone.

The last is a diminutive notation of the three-headed elephant, Kirimek, upon which the demon, Wasawadi, led his troops in an effort to overturn and prevent the Lord Buddha’s enlightenment. In the story, Mother Earth sends torrents of floods to sweep away the demon army. Parinya describes:
The design is clear: the red ground gives the picture a sharp yet
graceful distinctiveness. The linear pattern is very neat and precise
in traditional style, holding together with interesting forms expressing a
tremendous ability to think and to dream.

ออกแบบได้กระจ่างพื้นแดงขับให้รูปดูเด่นและสง่า เส้นสายลายเขียนประณีตเป็นแบบประเพณี การผูกและออกแบบรูปทรงน่าสนใจแสดงความช่างคิดช่างฝัน

There are two more reproductions on the second page of the article presenting some other traditional Thai images of elephants. The larger one reproduces a scene from a mural painting which includes 3 animals. Parinya explains that many such pictures appear in temple mural paintings by artists from the schools of the 4th Reign. They are very well drawn and the names of the various elephant clans are given. The animals are pictured in their families - black, red, white, gray, and those which are ‘the color of a new cooking pot.’ His final example is a close-up of a candid fragment from a larger mural, a playful group of about 10 Siamese people, both men and women, all acrobatically holding together to pretend that they are an elephant. Parinya appreciates this little artistic footnote which records the playful games of Thai people in times past, and which illustrates their deep-seated sense relationship with elephants.

After discussing these ancient images and before concluding his essay with a plea for more humane and responsible care for abused and neglected elephants in modern Thailand, Parinya closes his discourse on art objects with his sole consideration of a modern image – a work by Chatchai Puipia. These remarks, situated between the two segments of the article, act as a little hinge, a turning point, between two worlds – the iconic, even cosmic world of art objects and the disturbingly unsentimental, even brutal desperation of some aspects of the world of Thai society today.
Of Chatchai’s work, Parinya says:
‘… a work by Chatchai Puipia appears to take the subject of elephant as its creative beginning. It was first shown in the
7th Exhibition by the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Art of
Silpakorn University in 2533 / 1990. The show was inspired
by the death of Khun Seub Nakasatien. Chatchai’s work is mixed media with a rather abstract form. The outline is free – the various canvasses have
different sizes and are brought together in the shape of an elephant. The colors and tones are dark, the brushstrokes decisive and vigorous.

ในยุคนี้ก็มีศิลปินที่เคยใช้เรื่องราวของช้างนำเสนอและประสบผลสำเร็จเป็นที่น่าสนใจอย่างเช่นงานชุดหนึ่งของ ชาติชาย ปุยเปีย ดูจะเริ่มนำเรื่องช้างมาสร้างสรรค์และนำออกแสดงเป็นครั้งแรกในงานนิทรรศการศิลปกรรม ครั้งที่ 7 ของอาจารย์คณะจิตรกรรมประติมากรรมและภาพพิมพ์มหาวิทยาลัยศิลปากร เมื่อปีพ.ศ.2533 ที่ได้แรงบันดาลใจมาจากการเสียชีวิตของคุณสืบนาคะเสถียร เป็นงานที่ใช้เทคนิคผสมรูปแบบค่อนข้างเป็นนามธรรม รูปนอกอิสระแผ่นเฟรมมีขนาดต่างๆ นำมารวมกันในลักษณะรูปทรงช้างสีน้ำหนักเข้มฝีแปรงเด็ดขาดรุนแรง

The name of the painting appears in the caption to the right of the cutout shape of the cutout reproduction: หันฃวาง. This can be translated as ‘turning the broad side,’ (i.e. rather than head-on) or it can be translated as ‘obstructing, blocking the way.’ How then does this image fit into the whole picture presented by Parinya? What is the function of the reference to Chatchai’s work, either for the critic, or in the understanding of the discerning reader?

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