The Artistic Uniqueness of Promma lnyasri

Early in the summer of 1985 a young man returned to his hometown in Payao to look for work after having completed his studies in art. He had spent five tough years learning sculpture under a number of very demanding teachers in the Department of Fine Arts at the Northern Campus. His experiences as a student had given him confidence and led him to believe that he would be able to make a living as a potter.

But career opportunities for artists at the time, especially in the rural North, wore severely limited. Promma got married and worked as a rice farmer in Chiang Rai for two years. Later he sold farm goods and other assorted items.

For eight years Promma struggled to support himself and his family. His dream of becoming an artist might have gone completely unrealized if he had not befriended a teacher named Boonyarat Na Vichai, who suggested that he start painting. Promma displayer his work at The Gallery, a combination restaurant and art exhibition space in downtown Chiang Mai.

It had not been long before his paintings first appeared at The Gallery that Promma had bought a set of paints and other art supplies. An acquaintance had asked him to paint a picture of lotus flowers as a gift for a wedding couple. At a friend's suggestion, Promma painted a second picture of lotus flowers and put it on display at The Gallery. At the time he had no idea that someone would buy the picture just three days later.

These two pictures changed the direction of Promma's life. Promma lnyasri had begun a new life as a painter in the traditional Thai style.

At first Promma was unsure of his drawing and painting abilities, but the solid foundation he had been given as an art student eventually convinced him that he could succeed as a traditional Thai-style painter. In 1993-4, he exhibited his works with the Lan Din Group in Bangkok, Public response to his paintings was overwhelmingly positive, and people snapped up many of his pictures.

Admiration for his work among a large number of exhibition-goers gave Promma growing confidence. He began a search for new ideas and drew inspiration from the things around him. He turned his attention to religious places, using them in his paintings as symbols of Buddhist worship.

Train of Thought
From birth to death, the lives of people in northern Thailand are intimately tied to customs and traditions rooted in the Buddhist religion. As a native of the North, Promma's own life has been shaped by these Buddhist beliefs and practices. In the Buddhist temples of northern Thailand Promma recognized a distinctive kind of beauty. He was particularly moved by the temple architecture of the Tai Yai of Mao Hong Sorn province, which he began to incorporate as a visual element in his art. He combined this with motifs taken from his study of temples in the Sipsong Panna region of southern China and the old Chiang Tung Kingdom that straddled the border between modern-day Thailand and Burma.

Inspiration for the painting "The Lanna Metal Prasart" came from Buddhist history. According to legend a woman named Visakha had a multi-tiered metal prasart constructed as a symbol of her faith. The structure, build of gold, gold bronze, silver and brass, was topped with majestic golden spires.

From this story, Promma began work on a series of painting of metal prasarts. Begun in 1996, these elaborate architectural studies have a startling, dreamlike quality.

After completing the Metal Prasart series, Promma altered his manner of presenting shaped, direction, and volume in a series of works entitled "The Path of Great Faith" The first painting in this painting in this series took second prize in the category of traditional Thai painting at the 24th Annual Bualuang Art Exhibition in 2000.

The painting was inspired by the artist's deep appreciation for the architectural grace of Wat Prathat Lampang Luang. Built on a hill, the temple commands a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside, and because of the time, labor and money it took to construct it, the temple is a vivid expression of the power of faith.

Wat Prathat Lampang Luang is one of the most outstanding examples of northern Thai Buddhist architecture. With its beautiful ornamentation and its long history of religious scholarship, the temple has occupied a central place in the hearts of northern Thais for generations.

Later Promma turned his attention to the Buddha's footprint, a religious motif that defines his next three series of painting; "Lanna Buddha's Footprints", "The Power of Faith", and most recently "The Great Spirit of Lanna". Promma expresses pleasure in having found new themes and emotions to explore in his art.

Artistic Uniqueness
Because of his success as a painter over the past six years, it may be that Promma has lost his interest in a career as a sculptor. At major exhibitions around the country, his paintings regularly take top prizes and win him more admirers among art lovers and collectors both at home and abroad.

As a result of this success, Promma may have lost his feeling for the esthetic considerations of sculpture, which are linked to volume and mass.

But in fact, these are the very considerations that he addresses in his painting. In the series "Metal Prasart", for instance, Promma succeeds in conveying the volume of the prasart, not only in line and color, but with the understanding of a sculptor. The rendering of these religious structures in all their intricate detail reflects a concern for volume and mass that more often characterizes a sculptor than a painter.

In reality, there are no metal prasarts in northern Thailand. The structures featured in Promma's work spring wholly from the artist's imagination and are shaped by his esthetic sensibilities. Promma is able to add an almost infinite number of spires to his prasarts, increasing their volume and mass, while maintaining the painting's overall unity of design.

Promma also has a special technique for preparing his canvases. To boiled sa paper, he adds talc and glue in suitable proportions and applies the mixture to the canvas. Then with a comb or a coarse brush he raises a rough texture on the surface of the cloth that he has stretched over the frame.

All of the elements that comprise Promma's work are products of his imagination. Once he has settled on his subject matter, he makes a preliminary sketch on one of his prepared canvases. Using the sap from a fig tree, he sketches in the design. Then while the canvas is still damp, he applies gold leaf to the surface. Promma also uses silver foil in his compositions, a characteristic which is unique to his paintings.

Promma's work is not distinguished by his extravagant use of color. Instead, he uses brushes and paint to define the forms that constitute the primary visual elements of the work. The brilliant gold and silver which he favors are intended to function as symbols of sanctity and reverence and infuse the canvas with a sense of majesty. Promma' brushwork, which tends to be short and staccato, resembles points of light. Overall, his canvases often have a heavenly glow. They offer glimpses of a world beyond the mortal realm.

In his paintings "The Path of Great Faith#1 "Lanna Buddha's Footprint", and "The Power of Faith" Promma uses the interplay of light and shadow to create a multi-dimensional eftect. These works convey a powerful sense of depth and space. They hint at the infinite world of the imagination and dreams. The heavenly forms that feature in Promma's paintings are visual representations of the power of eternal faith.

It is Promma's blending of traditional Thai painting with elements of surrealism that sets him apart from other Thai painter and accounts for the uniqueness of his work. The evolution of forms that can be seen in his latest works shows an even deeper appreciation for the esthetic qualities of sculpture. These are the qualities that shine through in Promma's paintings.

Promma has chosen to work alone, not attaching himself to any particular group of artists. He prefers not to surround himself with other painters'works and recognizes no direct influences. As a result, his paintings are fresh and distinctive. They are the fruit of a unique imagination and the expression of a committed, confident artist.

At age 40, Promma has only been able to devote himself fully to art for the past ten years. As a young man just out of art school, he struggled to support himself and had to put his artistic ambition aside for eight long years. But in thinking back on the tough times behind him, Promma now has this to say:

"I'm grateful for the time 1 spent working as a rice farmer and a merchant. These experiences taught me about hardship and made me a tougher more determined man. 1 had to keep my creative energies bottled up inside of me, but today these energies provide the fuel for an endless imagination. Without the hard times, 1 wouldn't be the man 1 am today, and 1 certainly wouldn't feel the, same exhilaration and pride in my life as an artist'.

Sriwanna Saokong
August 2002