The Buddha within

Indifference is not an option when one views this very personal display of paintings and sketches
Pattara Danutra
It is nothing new for an artist to call a one-man exhibition after himself but in his ``Prasong Luemuang: Art Exhibition B.E. 2545'', currently underway at Viengtavern Gallery on Soi Asoke, Prasong uses his name as a device to emphasise the point that he is baring his personal philosophy. In these 34 canvases _ black-and-white pencil drawings, earth-tone charcoal sketches, expressionistic oil paintings and tranquil pale-pastel gouaches _ he allows us to take a look at his spiritual essence.

Portrayed in various meditative postures, the Buddha is a major component of Prasong Luemuang's current solo exhibition.
``B.E.'' _ Buddhist Era (B.E. 2545 is 2002 in the Gregorian calendar) _ occurs in the title of the show because all these works have to do with his attitude towards Thailand's majority religion. Most of the exhibits feature representations of a human-like form sitting cross-legged in the posture we have come to associate with the Buddha. A few of the works portray the same figure in a standing-meditation pose.

Not only does Prasong use a wide range of artistic media, he also employs a variety of techniques, everything from thick brush strokes in bold colours and meticulous line detail to supremely ornamental composition and illustrations which evoke feelings of serenity in the viewer.

Prasong has devoted much time since graduating from Silpakorn University to painting murals in northern temples, especially at Wat Pantagern in his home province of Lamphun. And many of the exhibits at this show are clearly an attempt to express the truths he has discovered, the depths he has uncovered within himself during this process of immersion in religious art.

As with any work of art, it is up to the individual to ``read'' the meaning of the work on display here. Some viewers may guess that the figures are meant to represent Prasong himself, others will assume that they are meant to represent humankind in general. But, in this reviewer's opinion, the subject of these canvases is neither transcendental exploration nor some statement as to the culmination of Prasong's search in this regard; no, it is the product of the artist's ongoing investigations into his own feelings.

The exhibition continues at Viengtavern Gallery, Sukhumvit Soi 21, until April 12. The venue is open on weekdays and Saturdays from 11am to 6pm. For more information, phone 02-664-3875 or visit
Each individual piece conveys in a most heartfelt way one area of Prasong's emotional life. Moving through this exhibition one feels like one is undertaking a spiritual journey, following a path fringed with a diverse range of human feelings _ painful, contemplative, edifying and exuberant by turn. One cannot be indifferent to a single one of the canvases here. One is overwhelmed, carried along in a stream of human emotions of which lust and a more general passion are the predominant sensations.

Prasong's style and concept have evolved a lot since he won the top prize at the Bangkok Bank art competition in 1987, and put on his first solo show the following year at the Silpa Bhirasri Institute of Modern Art.

He's now 40 but still favours signature gimmicks of old. He has inserted surrealistic elements, burlesque attitude and familiar religious/semiotic icons _ representations of the Buddha we know from temple murals and amulets _ into all these paintings and sketches. We see the traditional Thai image of the Buddha with long ears, the ample-proportioned figure we know from Chinese-influenced Phra Sanggrajai statues and the emaciated torso from Pang Bampen Tukkagiriya (self-chastisement by fasting) imagery.

Many of the exhibits feature words from the northern dialect of Thai, familiar terms from Buddhism sermons, the artist's distinctive signature plus dates and place names whose significance is (deliberately?) not apparent. One is tempted to speculate that this iconography is, perhaps, some sort of personal shorthand which Prasong has devised to document his religious practices.

These works are obviously not intended to be taken as sacred, as objects of devotion. They are, rather, meant to give us, the viewers, pause for reflection, to point us in the direction of the esoteric religious experience we are perhaps seeking.