Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Parinya Tantisuk, ‘Calendars and New Year’s Cards,.

Parinya Tantisuk, ‘Calendars and New Year’s Cards,.’ in the Silpa Wattanatham column Siam Rath Weekly News magazine, Yr 43, Vol. 31, 29 Dec., 1996 – 4 Jan., 1997
Chatchai’s (Puipia) name comes up in Parinya’s 1997 New Year’s column plugging calendars and holiday greeting cards decorated with local high art. The discussion also mentions the many obstacles artists face in seeking control of and remuneration for the reproduction of their work.

Parinya later penned two consecutive columns in which he warmly and enthusiastically praised Chatchai and his work. His New Year’s essay, however, only sidles up to the subject of Chatchai at the last minute. The artist is introduced toward the very end of the article, almost as an afterthought, and his work is discussed, but not pictured. Parinya takes a similarly cautious tack a few months later when citing Chatchai’s work in the column entitled ‘Elephants.’ In any case, the New Year’s piece is a fertile mixture of strange bedfellows jumbled together under the innocuous ‘calendars and greeting cards’ theme.

The first item discussed in Parinya’s New Year’s column is from a desk calendar sponsored by Siam City Bank and decorated with pictures of illustrations from the recent Pramahachanok royal treatise by His Majesty, King Bhumipol. Two pictures from that calendar are cited in Parinya’s essay.
One depicts a venerable guru seated in a fragrant grove and attended by his disciples. Without explaining the particulars of the subject, Parinya describes some of the formal aspects of the painting in which the bearded sage is about to offer refuge to a distraught and hapless queen.

Having spent much of his youth and most of his professional life looking at papers and stretched canvases smeared with pigment, the critic is already devoted to the visual joys of painting’s colors and textures. And like a practiced musician who savors combinations of sounds even when they are only notations on a sheet of music, the critic can recall the color, brushstroke and continuity of forms in Jintana’s painting, even while looking at a reproduction. He warmly invites readers to enjoy (imagining) the formal qualities in paintings as he praises the young artist’s work for its softness, warmth and charm and for her ability to creatively bring disparate elements into unity.

"She [Jintana Premsiri, the artist,] uses a very brownish yellow for the structure of the picture. It looks soft and warm. Her brushstrokes for the earth, the grey of the hills, and the various kinds of trees give the picture its charm. She manages the continuity among groups of forms very creatively."

In a second illustration on the opposite page, the hero from the same classic Buddhist story is represented swimming through the sea day and night, encouraged by an angel on high. In the key episode referred to here, the hero demonstrates his tenacity and is rewarded with a celestial vision. Parinya admires Chalermchai Kositpipat’s compositional scheme and clever use of pictorial devices which visually suggest rhythm and the passage of time.

The work pictured here is an important part of the story. Pramahachanok swims on for many days, showing his determination. Here he speaks with Nang Manee Mekala. The artist knows how to divide the picture rhythmically, changing the images and forms of the illustration. For example, the waves show a very strong current which slowly becomes gentler; the changes of the moon and sun give a sense of space and time.

Because these pictures have already been judged worthy of serving as illustrations for the text of a treatise by His Majesty, the King, it would be inappropriate for the critic to make any kind of negative remark about the artwork. Parinya assists by pointing out and explaining for his readers the artist’s clever logic in the composition - the way the picture is divided; the changing depiction of the waves as they subside; and the use of alternating sun and moon panels to symbolize the passage of time.

Parinya – at least in the decade of the 1990s - had to accept the presence of random commercial advertisements in the middle of his critical essays. In this issue two images under discussion are flanked by such advertisements. In the rented space beneath the picture of the distressed queen humbling herself before the ancient sage, a well-known personality from Thai commercial television confidently endorses the energy drink which helps him get through hard days.

Above the illustration of the divinely inspired swimmer is an advertisement for a Banner Protein food supplement, and below it, a picture of ‘The Best 4 x 4 x Far’ four-wheel drive Land Rover. The lofty stories of trials and noble encouragement envisioned from the Pramahachanok may be embraced at some level by readers who take energy drinks and food supplements to keep their strength up, or who might subconsciously feel that they too could do some adventuring if they had access to a Land Rover.

These images jarringly juxtapose references to ancient social and cultural allegiances with the banal familiarity of readers’ daily lives. The pages embody that which Thai people confront every day: the challenge of reconciling the diverse and imagined demands and possibilities of their lives and their multi-dimensional roles as members of contemporary society. Although some would cringe at this layout, it is also possible to appreciate the democratic mingling of categories, and to marvel at how traditional narratives find new life as mass art, feeding imaginative visions of modern lifestyles.

Certainly the old stories remain alive in the popular imagination, all mixed up with the claims of contemporary life. The detailed little montage in these pages mirrors many levels of experience in Thai society today.

Two other artwork-greeting cards are pictured on this issue’s last page. At the top is a quaint and dreamlike rural scene by a northern Thai artist, Prasong Leumuang. The critic delights in describing the lively artistry of the picture, the fresh, direct and ‘pure’ lines and brushstrokes. He invites readers to enjoy imagining with him the way lines were laid in by the artist’s brush.

To welcome the New Year, 1997, a sweet depiction of life in a rural village in Northern Thailand as a sort of Shangri La of timeless serenity and peace is comforting. The nostalgia of many Thai people for the imagined tranquility of old rural ways might be compared to the stubborn attachment in the minds of many Americans to the deluded idea that their own agricultural sector is still a world of small and charming family farms such as the one pictured in the popular book and film, Charlotte’s Web. In any case, Prasong’s picture is admirably suited to the purposes of a New Year’s greeting card.

"This work has the fragrance of the cool and misty villages and countryside
of the North and shows a peaceful, happy and tranquil life close to nature.
The way the lines are drawn and the freshness, directness and purity of the
brushstrokes make the picture very lively."

Just as Prasong’s poetic sketch celebrates the beloved notion of the nation’s blessed and happy rural, agricultural world, Panya Wijintanasarn affirms the familiar belief and point of national pride that Thai society and culture is essentially Buddhist. Below the image of the tranquil countryside, a painting by Panya depicting the kindly face and benign equanimity of the Lord Buddha is referenced:

"The picture, The Power of Peaceful Joy…invites one to look and to think. Panya is daring and smart in his idea of presenting the face of the Buddha and the other forms in the picture. This work takes an angle from Thai art out of the context in which it is usually seen."

Parinya describes each picture briefly, concisely characterizing each artist’s strong points. He knows each one of them, either in the capacity of teacher or student: all are personally connected with the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Art of Silpakorn University. Panya and Prasong are graduates of the faculty’s Thai Art Department. The critic characterizes Jintana as warm and charming, a creative manager. He praises Chalermchai for skillfully marshalling movements, rhythms and symbols. Prasong’s drawing is fresh, direct and pure; Panya is smart and daring, seeing things from new and unusual angles. By implication, readers are invited to measure their own lives and strengths against this little catalog of artistic virtues.

Parinya also describes - as if they were pictured, though they are not - a lithograph (Sunrise on Sunday) by another colleague, Attasit Aniwattchon; and finally, a work by Chatchai Puipia –– yet another PSG/SU alumnus. The reference to Chatchai’s mixed media painting, หันขวาง [turned broadside, or obstructing] is one of the two illustrations apparently excised by the magazine’s layout team due to lack of space.

His is the last artwork mentioned in this article, cited in a little paragraph just beneath the reproduction of Panya’s Power of Peaceful Joy. The face of the Buddha which peers down at a speck of cosmic matter seems to be looking, as well, at the little scrap of text at the bottom of the page which names Chatchai’s work and describes the artist’s vigor and diligence.

The layout serendipitously parallels the situation of the little hero on the previous page who swims on with determination under the angelic eye of heaven. Parinya seems to have expected that a picture of หันขวาง would be included; he refers to the idea of conservation, but doesn’t mention that Chatchai’s work suggests the form of an elephant:

"Chatchai Puipia’s หันขวาง [obstructing] reflects things that deeply disturb the artist. The expression suggests themes of conservation. His work is quite fun - with very bold use of colors, materials, textures and brushstrokes, as well as combinations of forms and sizes of frames to create new shapes. "

Parinya sketches in some typical and essential characteristics of Chatchai’s work, i.e. very serious but playful, bold and inventive. He goes on to praise Chatchai for consistently producing many adventurous and challenging works, and for staging frequent solo exhibitions. The artist is thus discretely introduced as part of a company of youthful but distinguished and well known PSG/SU alumni, and his work (although mentioned but unfortunately not seen in this instance) is set alongside a collection which includes paintings associated with a royal treatise. In this way, Parinya vouches, as it were, for Chatchai’s fine lineage and claims him as a member of the high artworld establishment.

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