Saturday, March 21, 2009

Manit Sriwanichpoom. “Between the Lord Buddha, Gauguin and Chatchai,” in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.46, Vol.24, 14 – 20 Nov. 2542 / 1999.

Who is the greatest Thai painter in my view? Chatchai Puipia. I can say without the least hesitation. Some people would say I exaggerate, that I too much favor my friends. But I don’t mind because I have talented friends whose abilities are beyond the ordinary – equal to a true master. I count it as my good luck to have a chance to know a master artist during my lifetime.

l. 8 Chatchai brought out the pictures in succession for me to see, both those which were finished and those which were unfinished, and will show at the CU Wityanitat Gallery (29 Oct. – 3 Dec.) under the title, On the Journey to find the Lord Buddha, I met Gauguin Slowly Coming Back.

l. 13 – 14 But there was one picture entitled Dedicated to the One I love, which impressed me very much. It was a portrait of Chatchai with just his big head placed on a golden chair. The head seems dim and withdrawn, seeking to pull back into the red velvet cloth. It’s the same red which Caravaggio, the Italian artist (1571 – 1610) and John Singer Sargent, an American artist, use in their pictures. It is red full of the power of flesh and blood, of lust and trembling. (He can attest with his sex organ: it is hard, a stalk, in the shadow of the cloth under his chin.)

l. 22 The face of Chatchai is turned a bit, like someone seated and looking at the world before them with eyes which are gloomy and sad. Both hands, which look like a demon’s hands, come from his ears. The intense blue skin is hidden under the thin, black, lacy gloves, which nudes in Playboy like to wear when they pose for photos. On the right hand, he wears a large red ring. If you look closely, you will see it is an image of buttocks. (When people come in, they bow to kiss the ring, as they do when meeting the pope. So you can know what this means.) This hand also holds a dry and faded old garland presented by someone long ago. The left hand pinches an envelope, a white love letter with a pink border. What did Chatchai write in his love letter? Or does it contain a confession of his sins against the world?

l.34 Why does this picture look so very sad and so very real? It held me spellbound, stunned, for a moment. I can’t tell why it has such power to strike the heart to such an extent. It is the same feeling as when I got to see the original work (not a reproduction in a book) of a Caravaggio, which made me think very sincerely about what a real painting actually is. It has power. And when I had a chance to stand before a great painting, it made my heart and the chemicals in my body turn over in a way I can’t describe. These images retain the living power and soul of the artist and communicate to the viewer from across the centuries.

l. 52 When I think of going back to that time, when I saw the original work, I feel so very happy. I wait for that time to happen again, like a youth waiting for a lost love. Then, my heart withers, hopeless of a sudden, when I think of the reality that this is Thailand, where there are artists in name only. No one really understands what real art is. We just have Grade B artists trailing behind this or that artist. We only have Grade C artists who want fame and money, or who go along with the fashion of the artworld. No one is honest or firm about their own feelings and thoughts.

l. 65 For many years, Chatchai painted pictures almost entirely about himself. Some people have said sarcastically that he got lost in himself, or at least, that his work is repetitive and monotonous. There is nothing new, no understanding of his work at all. If you like the work of Freida Kahlo (1907 – 1954), a Mexican artist who did only self-portraits in various states of strange emotion, seated, standing or lying down in strange surroundings – you will understand Chatchai’s work. Both these persons make paintings in the same spirit. They look very deep inside their own humanity. That is the heart of an explorer who sees something and records it. Realistically. Doing this is not easy at all, especially if one is honest about what one sees and feels, l. 1-2 and does not deceive oneself. Brave enough to face ones true feelings, thoughts, and ideas, good and evil. It is very difficult indeed, painful, if one finds that one is not the person one wanted to be, and it is scary when what one draws and paints offends the feelings of loved ones, family, friends, peers and people generally who don’t understand. So nobody likes the things you bring to give, to show the public. Most artists thus prefer simple subjects they know well and go a bit further, with landscapes, nature, society, politics, problems between the sexes and so many other things.
l. 14 Dedicated to the One I Love was inspired by Velasquez’s painting of Pope Innocent X (1650). Velasquez was the great Spanish court painter (1599 – 1660). In that picture, the pope in his red robes looks directly at the viewer with a forbidding glance, lips red and tightly compressed.
l. 20 In 1951, Francis Bacon, an English painter, took Velasquez’s pope and redid it ‘after Velasquez’ according to his own feelings in a style of fierce and unruly brushstroke. Bacon’s pope screams rather than sitting collectedly. We can hear the cry coming off the image. We don’t know if he cries because he can’t bear the defrauded state of the Church and the faithful, or if he can’t stand his own lust.

l. 30 I really can’t figure it – can anyone use the heritage of Velasquez in such an interesting way as Bacon? But Chatchai could do it. He becomes weird Pope Chatchai, withdrawing from the world before him and watching silently what goes on.

l. 36 There are other pictures such as ‘I still Feel there is Something Missing,’ or the picture, ‘Beginning,’ both very interesting. I see these works as highly poetic. They record the state of Chatchai’s emotion – very interesting. We are invited to examine the details of the picture. It’s like entering a mysterious twilight land where heads and bodies are separated and scattered. They have the size of bodies, color and feeling. Sometimes Chatchai’s head floats in the water on its side, facing us. The face has an expression of deathly shock. The eyes are large and wide; sometimes there is a crazy, mocking smile.
l. 49 I am very happy that Chatchai hesitated when he med Gauguin. Or else, the works of Chatchai might be like all those other Thai artists who make pictures without feeling – without emotion – about still…still…peaceful…peaceful…empty, empty, empty…..
l. 54 Because artists understand Dhamma like primary school children who memorize everything the teacher tells them in the hour they study Buddhism.

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