Manit Sriwanichpoom. “Good Luck – Died Already,’ in Siamrath Weekly News, Yr.47, Vol.4, 25 June – 1 July, 2543 / 2000.
‘What is something that has died? What has died from me is the soul of art – so very sad. It has begged leave to depart from me. All that is left today is ‘body,’ made of mortal flesh and blood. Limbs, heart, and a brain to use for the work at hand. Go on then, you sad, sad soul. When you go, I’ll be bright and gay. If you pull out now, one day you may want to return. I will make a place for you. But my temporary brain has to think it over, please, because ‘ere long my body may withdraw like you, too.’
l. 10. This is from the catalog of the painting show by Santi Thongsuk, a young male artist age 31 who just exhibited his latest series of works, ‘Good Luck – That I Died Already’ at a new gallery called Si-Am Art Space (they call it see-am art space...I’m not sure about it). It is in the soi behind Green Tower building on Rama IV Road. It used to be a row of units housing silkscreen printers. After that, they dressed it up as a school to teach art and an art gallery.
l. 18 If you just read the meaning in Santi’s mind, at bottom, in which he offers and invites, it’s really very interesting to see his 12 works. This is very personal meaning from the heart of someone who is rebelling – not tame, not believing, and having a problem with the ‘soul of art’ to which the artworld and artists value and refer to so frequently.
l.23 Santi Thongsuk is very well known in art competition circles, both nationally and internationally. He took first prize in the 1st ASEAN competition, Phillip Morris, 2534 (1991). The picture reflected social problems in which people struggle among themselves to survive in the midst of an uproar. The colors are very sad, dark and black. A woman gives birth to an infant, born into the midst of bitter strife.
l. 30 Besides, if you look in various catalogs through the history of exhibitions and prizes, you will see that Santi has exhibited in many big shows since 2533 (1990), and he has swept up the prizes in almost every category in shows like Bangkok Bank’s Bua Luang, the Thai Farmers Bank show, and exhibitions sponsored by Toshiba, Panasonic and AIT.
l. 36 So, it is very interesting that an artist who walks along the path given by society and wins many prizes and is honored as an outstanding artist, one who meets the standard and has everything in the life of an ‘artist’ - this person who looks so smooth and covered in rose petals, as everyone dreams of experiencing – and what happens? One day, that artist stands up and says, “Good luck! I have already died.” And what has “died’ is “the soul of art which is so very sad.” Like what Santi is doing here: this sort of thing. If it doesn’t really grab you and make you think, I don’t know what to say.
l. 45 It’s like that. We should seek an answer by taking a look at his paintings.
l. 47 The first piece is very big – 290 x 940 cm, entitled ‘I’m Glad I’m Dead.’ It is a picture of ‘prayers for the dead’ in which Santi himself is the corpse. He lays there, stretched out, naked, hands set in prayer on a pedestal in the background of the picture. It is very strange that the artist’s corpse is not in a coffin. It rather offends the eyes of people who have come to join the ceremony, even though he is a famous artist. But the people who have come to listen, about 25 locals rather than people in the artworld or friends of the artist, or from banks in suits and ties, sitting about, embellishing the ceremony. In the middle of the picture there is a large portrait of the face of Santi set between the monks and the local people. Santi’s eyes seem distant and distracted, his hands, fingers spread, lace together before him. Over the frame is a black and white garland, hung upon it as an ornament. This portrait is the focal point of the painting. In addition to its large size, its color is the only point where a different color has been applied, unlike the generally monochromatic color scheme. Because through the rest of the scene, there is only yellow, like the gold of the evening sun in the background, and some burnt brown of the people, creating the sad atmosphere of a funeral.
l. 64 I tried to interpret. The ‘sadness of the soul’ of which Santi speaks. What is it? Where is it in the picture? I still can’t find it. I look for a symbol, as in the work of Chatchai Puipia, who uses symbols ironically, critiquing the atmosphere of the ‘modern Thai artworld.’ For example, the picture of the sculpture of Acharn Silpa Bhirasri, or pictures which are ‘masterpieces’ are put in pairs with weird, enormous faces of Chatchai – something like that. I still can’t find such a thing [in Santi’s picture]. In the end I would say that ‘Santi’s corpse’ is a symbol of the very sad soul, surely, because in any case, Santi created himself fully according to the formula for success of a Thai artist. Why use anyone else as the symbol. He uses himself: that’s the safest choice.
l. 76 I see that drawing an image of a corpse, his own, is like contemplating his own death, as in Buddhist practice. Especially for the Mahayan Buddhist, death is the tool to make our own awareness more keen and it is a preparation for that day to come. Some Tibetan monks believe that faking a funeral for oneself is a way of averting a disaster in ones life, and may lengthen it. It’s something they do frequently. I wonder if Sonti is thinking anything like this or not. Is it a reminder of mortality or a way of averting disaster – which one?
l.93 ‘When I Go Under Water, the First Thing I do is Put My Feet to the Sky’ is an oil painting (250 x 350 cm) of Santi sleeping in an attitude in which his feet point to the sky.
l. 2 – 3 ‘Floating In, Floating Out’ (290 x 290 cm) is a picture of two of Santi’s red corpses, floating in a blue sky. His hands take a prayerful gesture, clasping lotus, incense and candles.
l. 6 -7 In the picture ‘Someone With No Face’ (290 x 300 cm), Santi sits naked with his back to the viewer, his left hand grasping his right arm behind his back, like someone willingly accepting imprisonment. What is clear is that there is no head on these shoulders. His body faces the sea, like someone enjoying the sea at evening, but this man won’t see its beauty.
l. 13 all three of the pictures I have mentioned express states of emotion, or you could say, ‘the human condition’ and they bespeak the crisis of the soul of art for which Santi uses himself as a symbol. I understand that Santi is confronting big problems (metaphysical, they call them). That is, he has questions – beginning not to believe in the value of things he used to believe in, was taught to believe. Although Santi himself has already enjoyed success in the mainstream: graduating from art school; entering competitions; winning prizes; becoming a university art teacher ; being an invited artist, an honored artist, a national artist.
l. 26 – 27 And so, in the life of an artist, is that all there is? What we call ‘success’? And is that genuinely valuable or not?
l. 30 I think that Santi has not only faced a crisis of belief in the soul of art; he also reflects a crisis of faith in Buddhist religion in the work entitled ‘Yee! Yee! Yee!’ It is a big painting in which you see only the golden face of a Buddha image, showing a state of ‘Yee!’ (distaste) for the gold leaf which has been plastered on its face.
l. 37 – 38 And six pictures resembling his own face with characteristics of varied emotions. Some pictures have a symbol of a Buddha image on the face; there is one (banana leaf) green picture in which you see Santi with long ears. Some show him with hair curled in little shells, as in a Buddha image. Some pictures look like ‘gay’ Buddha images. These pictures express emotion. They pose doubts about the Buddhist character of the artist and of society.
l. 47 – 48 If you overlook the clumsy drawing and brushstroke, the lack of commitment in the drawing of these images - not up to his full ability – the content makes a great leap forward and is very interesting indeed. Pay no attention to the catcalls of ‘ Santi Puipia!’ Because, in any case, the road of ‘ Santi Puipia’ has challenges and is surely more interesting for ‘ Santi the national artist.’