Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Paisarn Tirapongwit, The Results of the 31st Bua Luang Art Competition

Paisarn Tirapongwit, ‘ The Results of the 31st Bua Luang Art Competition,’ in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siam Rath Weekly News magazine, 16 – 22 Oct. 2010, Yr.57, Vol. 4.

Organized art competitions in Thailand appear to have begun during the reign of the 6th king.
Although, they did have some competitions in the period of the 5th king, they were more contests of skill or craft rather than art shows in the Western sense. According to the documentary records in the archives of the National Library at Tawasukri pier, in the time of the 6th king there were three art competitions organized addressing many branches of the arts in the period from 1917 to 1920.

Even so, these competitions and contests of artistic skill, then and for quite some time to come were not seriously planned official occasions. They were competitions which were staged irregularly, and were not scheduled annually, launched from time to time as it suited the situation or special conditions, for example, as part of the celebrations for the first constitution of Siam after the change in the nation’s form of government.

Things changed with the arrival of Professor Corrado Feroci, a young Italian sculptor who, for political reasons, changed his name and his nationality to Thai during the Second World War. He became Prof. Silpa Bhirasri. Having entered the civil service in Siam under the 6th king, he joined with members of the court of Siam to write a curriculum for studying and teaching art along the lines of a Western European art academy. The institution which eventually opened for study was the School of Fine Arts (1934).

Later, when Field Marshall Plaeck Pibulsongkram was the prime minister, this school was upgraded to the level of a university, and was given the new name of Silpakorn (1943). When it first opened, there were only two departments – painting and sculpture and just sculpture.

In 1949, Prof. Silpa began to arrange art competitions as a showplace for the creative works of the young men and women graduates in painting and sculpture. Interested persons from outside the university who were interested in making works of art, who had skill, and who were ready to compete with work of their own to show the public were also invited to participate. The competition was a mechanism to stimulate the development of artistic skill and expertise. At the same time, it was an invitation to the people to meet and acquaint themselves with kinds of artworks which were still a novelty and very unusual for Thai society in those bygone days.

As to the competitive stages that grew out of the early efforts and lobbying of Prof.Silpa Bhirasri (who was very well known in later times), his work was carried on continuously with activities, competitions and contests in the various branches of the visual arts up till the present. The well known competition which he started during his tenure at Silpakorn University, is the National Art Exhibition, of which the 55th showing was just recently completed this September, 2009.

The Bua Luang Painting Competition/Exhibition is another important ongoing arena to test skills in the visual arts. It is the second oldest show after the National. Although Silpkorn University plays a vital role as an organizer, the primary supporting agency which stages the Bua Luang show is the Bangkok Bank Foundation.

Between the National Exhibition and the Bua Luang, there are some distinctive points of difference. First of all, the forum for the National Exhibition is open to all branches of art, all techniques, and all materials, whether in painting, sculpture, or mixed media. Each kind of art is classified and judged in its own class, all being divided and judged in distinct groups.

By contrast, the Bua Luang is a competitive stage for paintings only
. This show selects and awards prizes in only one field. Hence, artworks in the fields of sculpture, graphic art, and installation cannot compete for any of the cash awards in this arena.

Although they accept only paintings, the rules of the Bua Luang competition also divide paintings on the basis of characteristics of form/ style into 2 or 3 types, according to conditions of the show and the judging from year to year.

Early on, when the competition first started, the panel of judges divided works into two categories, i.e. traditional Thai painting and contemporary painting. Nowadays, however, the competition recognizes 3 groups when awarding prizes i.e. in traditional Thai painting, contemporary Thai painting, and contemporary painting.

By contemporary painting is meant works in a contemporary style which clearly show influence from the West. These paintings have many characteristics that are seen generally nowadays. Then there are the other two groups, i.e. ‘Paintings with traditional Thai form’ and ‘Paintings with a traditional Thai approach.’ These last two classifications might make anyone feel perplexed, confused and surprised. What’s the difference, one may ask, between ‘form’ and ‘approach’?

‘Thai painting in traditional style’ means paintings which follow the style and line of traditional Thai painting. They are works which clearly carry on what is handed down from ancient Thai painting as the important element. Some details may be developed and changed from the work and teachings of ancient Thai master painters of the past. This category of works generally [and distinctively] recall their ancient Thai heritage.

The content of works in this category express and as a rule revolve around the history of the Buddha, stories from the Triphumi and the Ramakien, or imaginative images of heavenly cities. Quoting and interpreting Buddhist teachings, these paintings tend to symbolic reflections with characteristics in a more restricted range, differing among themselves in skill, taste and the personality and organization of the structure of color, atmosphere, etc.

As to ‘Thai painting with a traditional approach’, these are works which use traditional Thai art forms, but which mingle and mix elements which have a modern character like Western art. These paintings may use a myriad of materials to communicate their creative expression. As to the content presented, there is much more diversity than in traditional Thai art. Besides Buddhist stories from history and philosophy, religion, the Triphumi, the Ramakien, hell and heaven, the content of these paintings ranges from past stories to present day events.

Another important and special characteristic of the Bua Luang competition is that it is the only forum in Thailand that is open to traditional Thai art in a myriad of forms and styles. The competition is unique in its support for this kind of development.

About the 31st Bua Luang in 2009, which opened on 7 August and ran until 23 November,
if you ask about my feelings and opinions generally about the works, judging and selection, I found hardly anything of interest in the 58 works selected to show or in the prizes awarded.

Whether in terms of form/style, technique, method or content presented in the works which I considered and surveyed briefly, they were largely indifferent, an indistinguishable blur. As I wandered past, virtually none were able to make any impact or bring my leisurely stroll to a halt.

Compared with the last Bua Luang, the 30th, in 2008, I think that the works from that show still leave an interesting after-image which call up more emotion and thought, have more color and life than we find in this 31st show.

This is not to say that there are no interesting works at all in the 31st Bua Luang. However, what I found by and large was very familiar… things I had seen before. And as to my own feelings, and the desire for something new, from this exhibition of the works of young men and women, there was Tanakorn Buaplod’s rendering of monitor lizards biting and tearing chickens to pieces. One has seldom seen such a cold-blooded and implacable depiction of horrific violence.

Another picture in which skill in painting is very clear is Pacharapong Meesin’s depiction of a smashed, smiling face dripping with sticky, cloudy, thick, messy pus. It is a presentation full of feeling, a presentation luminous with bruises, both in concept and content.

Another is a painting by Tanawat Suriyathongtham of rowdy, mocking crowds jeering from inside a large red mouth. Karuna Panumet presents a face overlaid with shadows, the complex of lines and tracery soften and radiate power with new ideas which shake emotions, feelings and imagination – an experience of the heart for people like me who want more than just pretty pictures created skillfully by experts. Art-makers comment on or argue about or relate to something. They have exchanges with the many eyes and faces of the audiences, with everyone who pushes themselves to make the journey to see all these works.

Though there are few from the many, I still hope to see more new works from Tanakorn, Tanawat, Pacharapong and Karuna, and from all those young people whose works express the changes and differences, the ceaseless movement of the process of ideas which are reflected in the outstanding works which they bring to show. They develop things that are new, different and varied. Their’s are not works which revolve in place, going nowhere, round and round with the same technique, form and style, unable to struggle and search for a way out.

We will have to continue and follow up on the works of this new generation of young men and women as they send their work out to society and the public in the days ahead. Tomorrow, will we see changes, or will we see the same pictures as before, brought out again and again, the same picture with some minimal change in perspective and a feeble scattering of new details? Until tomorrow then: please follow step by step. We’ll see what comes next.

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