A still life' of Chatchai Puipia
1 ) a monologue
These days everything becomes a dream. A simple thing becomes
wonderful. An easy thing becomes hard. Somethings which we should
pay attention to have been neglected. What a silly dream.
My painting is about life. Sometime the painting controlled me
than I controlled them. Anyway it was still one of a few fun
things I can do between the way to the death.
An old music has a sense of nostalgia that withdrawn me from
the outside world to recall the past. That's why I like them.
All memories are worth more than anything. Just like my stuffs
at home. They can't be valuable enough as an antique. But they've
been a part of my life and so memorable. Whenever I touch them,
I can feel, see and hear those old days. At least I'm not alone.
Although some memories were hard.
2) Still life/ life's too still
We have gathered at Chatchai's studio in the evening to view
his new painting for his exhibition at Open Art Space. Chatchai
paces across his studio, candidly mumbling his thoughts about
life and art. He has never been afraid to express his vulnerable,
human side verbally or artistically and I am not surprised by
what he says.
Chatchai has often literally put himself in his work and in the
world, using images of himself in paintings such as Siamese Smile
(1994) and Paradise Perhaps (1996) as a means to criticize contemporary
society and culture. Siamese Smile portrayed the artist as an
angry young man, expressing the artist's frustrations and anger
towards society. In Paradise Perhaps, a large scale painting
of the artist's butt, Chatchai again makes a critical statement
about society and, at the same time, about the dominance of Western
narratives of figurative painting.
Maintaining the practice of portraying himself in his work, Chatchai
began to move away from social criticism and towards a more subjective
and individualistic practice in works such as On the way to Buddha,
Encountered Gauguin passing by, I thinktwice' (1999).
Marked a period of personal change in the artist's life, this
series reflects an increasing interest in Western and Thai art
history and refers specifically to Paul Gauguin's Tahiti period.
Referring to Thai tradition, Sickly Sweet (2001), portrays the
artist at Royal Court surrounded by young girls, with his head
on the floor, positioned next to a terracotta image of Apsara
with her hands together as a lotus position. Like The beginning
( 1998) Sickly Sweet reflects a concern with fairy tales, Krua
In Khong and an exploration of three-dimensional space. Juxtaposing
the old and the new, Sickly Sweet combines figurative and architectonic
elements reflecting the clash of traditional and modern in today's
Lately, Chatchai has turned his attention to painting still life
in an attempt to explore his life and surroundings.
Turning his back to the streets, cities and society at large,
Chatchai has began to self-consciously withdrawn himself from
the world and to seek time to be alone. Reflecting his feelings
of isolation, Chatchai has also begun to remove himself from
his paintings. While he has stated that he no longer wishes to
critique society, by removing himself from the world he is making
a grand gesture against the community in which he lives, a gesture
in many ways far more forthright than his early works.
In his earlier works, Chatchai routinely objectified his own
image. Arranging his head and body parts on the canvas, blowing
them up to occupy at least a quarter of his surface, the artist
became just one of a series of other props represented in his
paintings. By doing so, Chatchai effectively objectified himself,
blurring the boundary between object and subject, self and other.
Should we understand such objectification as an attempt to come
to terms with death, as a sort of existential effort to confront
a fear of annihilation? Or can we understand it better as an
attempt to come to terms with the realities of contemporary culture
Before settling on the title of his current exhibition, Overiooked,
Chatchai considered naming this current series *stay home'. Interested
in the idea of a self-enforced isolation, Chatchai devised various
means to keep himself in his house, to lure himself away from
the distractions of the outside world. The objects exhibited
in the exhibition are represent components of these lures' record
collection, antiques, and personal momentos. They are part of
his everyday life that he has chosen to share with us. Perhaps
his isolation is not a bad idea at all. It's not quite a dreadful
Withdrawn from the outside world, Chatchai's attention has returned
to memories of his past. It is with a sense of nostalgia that
Chatchai remembers his late father, his love of antiques, an
old *look toong' song ESP, Sornkiri Siprajuab and the local terracotta
by Yai Ti, from Sukothai. Father (2000) explores the relationship
between death and consciousness, reflecting the artist's feelings
as he watched his father dying in his bed, his memory gone and
unable to recognize his son. Father portrays the head of an artist
floating in the sea, an elephant Iying to his left and a statuesque
man to the right.
Nostalgic has become a significant element in Chatchai's work.
In Sunday afternoon with Sornkiri (2001), a *still' life a Sunday
afternoon, the artist's head occupies almost half of the pictorial
space. The head's eyes are closed and its left ear lies on the
floor beneath a table and a record of Sornkiri Sriprajaub's popular
series of *Buppesanniwas'.
Experimenting with various styles and schools, Overlooked explores
traditional two-dimension space, inflecting it with discontinued
narratives and a combination of abstraction, the figurative,
landscape, still life.
Exploring the relationship between memory, inner experience and
physicality, Chatchai has turned to elements of his past and
present that are often overlooked in contemporary society for
inspiration. Presenting these discarded objects as painted still
life, Chatchai also brings our attention to the way in which
these artistic practices are often overlooked by younger generations,
relegated to history, as an old fashioned curiosity. Is he trying
to convince us to re-examine these notions, emploring us not
to *overlook' them again?
If we are to understand Chatchai's recent work in the context
of the individual's isolation and withdrawal from society, should
we assume that he is no longer attempting to make a comment on
society? Or should we understand such a withdrawal as a loud
and emphatic critique of society? I believe that it is through
this exploration of individual experience that Chatchai is able
to undertake a more mature and sophisticated critique of his
Gridthiya Gaweewong is the director and curator of Project
a non profit art gallery based in Bangkok.