Saying it with Flowers

Large-scale watercolotirist Montri Samchimchom doesn't just paint pretty pictures.
However easy on the eye they maj, be on the surface, theflowers in his latest exhibition, Flowers Rendezvous,
are also parables with deeper meanings.

If our enemies were flowers, there would be no war,"
says watercolour artist Montri Samchimchom while showing me his most recent oeuvre. "People vote for warmongers,' he adds under his breath.
These are not random comments, but sentiments which go to the heart of his work.
What might, at first sight, seem like'pretty pictures' of flowers in carefully composed jungle-garden settings, are actually meant to convey a message of love winning over hate.

Montri's Flozvers Rendezvous - a solo exhibition of 40 large watercolour paintings - goes on show at Chulalongkorn's Jamiuree Art Gallery from 6 to 22 June.
I am visiting him ahead of the opening at his classroom-cum-atelier 'Art Pro' on Royal City Avenue, a shop he shares with other members of the 'Six-Point Group Watercolour Artists'.
This is not where Montri does his painting (his studio is in Samut Sakom), but it is where he takes art classes at weekends, and also the place he is using for the hectic business of organising his show.

Montri paints his ideas and beliefs into his creations. "fliere's always another or deeper meaning," he explains. Of course, his paintings can also be appreciated on a superficial, purely visual, level - and he is happy for viewers to make their oAn interpretations.
He believes that specific explariafions could inhibit that personal, creative process - and in any case, the artists own meanings may not always mean much to other people.
"Those two bugs on the petals of the sunflower... that one's my girlfriend, and thavs me," he says. When I raise an eyebrow, he sniiles and moves on to another painting in the series.
A suitable name for this collection might be 'Parables of Flowers' with the flowers representing people. Montri confides that this is, in fact, the exwbition's subtitle - or working title.

I ask him to show me some of his earlier work. It doesn't look at all like Flozoers Reitdezvous.
Moreover, if you use Montri's current work as your only guide, it is not immediately clear that the framed paintings hanging on the wall upstairs are by him, or even in watercolour for that matter.
You might even be forgiven if you surmised that JMW Tumer's spirit must have visited the Realm a few years ago, leaving behind a deep impression on at least one of his fellow watercolourists.

Montri says that he started being attracted to watercolour, consciously at any rate, when he was 17. Watercolour techniques are not taught at Silpakorn University, Bangkok's most prestigious school of the visual arts, but Montri doesn't believe that is because watercolour is considered either inferior or amateurish (Turner's work has long since destroyed that notion).
Nor can it be because watercolour is too complex or difficult a subject to teach. Whatever the reason for Silpakom's neglect, Bangkok's Vocational Art School filled the training gap very nicely and propelled the young artist in the right direction.

Montri has since exhibited successfully in Bangkok (including at River City and Silom Galleria) and Chiang Mai, and further afield in Malaysia and South Korea. Earlier this year, he took part in an exhibition of paintings of Phuket following the tsunarrd, with proceeds going to the Red Cross Society.

A look through the catalogue of Montri's end-2004 group exhibition in Chiang Mai reveals as many different artists as different styles and techniques.
Of course, a 'solo' is always a critical benchmark in the career of any professional artist, but bringing work from many artists together tends to attract a wider audience - and the meetings and exchanges between the exhibitors can be both socially rewarding and professionally inspiring. Montri is certainly aware that belonging to an association like the Six-Point Group,
a high-calibre collection of award-winning artists, has many advantages - particularly when it comes to shared exhibitions.
As any painter who must make a living from his work will appreciate, there is both strength and economy in numbers.

Montri points out to me various details of his work, both past and present. As we discuss his evolving technique, it is clear that in many respects he has moved well beyond the basic tricks of the watercolour trade he picked up at art school.
In fact, it's difficult to believe - at first sight at least - that his recent works are painted on paper rather that canvas or other more substantial media.

Large-sized art paper of the requisite quality doesn't come cheap, and that's one compelling reason for Montri to make sketches before attempting the real thing.
While many other media can tolerate repeated scraping or over-painting, paper is too delicate to withstand too many corrections.
But it he makes preliminary sketches of what he wants to paint, Hs reasoning is not based solely on economics.
"My sketch book is my diary,' he says. Montri always keeps his sketchbook handy, since inspiration is something that tends to strike unexpectedly, often at the oddest of moments.
Also, like many other painters before him, Montri sometimes uses his camera as sketchbook.
He says this is "not in order to copy the photo, but rather to record a memo of the atmosphere," adding that a photo can serve the same function as revisiting a desired location.
Once impressions have been refreshed, the eyes can close to let the mind take over and transform them into art.

Finally, I ask him what's on the planning sketchbook - more watercolours and more parable-inspired flowers in the jungle? "No," he says. "Right now, I'm working on a new series which will look quite different from Flower Rendezvous".
It's obviously too early in the piece to elaborate, and he doesn't want to give too much away.

As I rise to leave, Montri reaches to the top of a stack of several hundred exhibition posters (most of which will now be pasted up at strategic points around Bangkok) and gives me one.
Then he shows me the original painting, 'Reacting to the Scents of Different Species 3' - a fairly large work, approximately 80 x 120cm. Of course, on my way out, I know perfectly well that it's a watercolour. On my way in, I'd have had a hard time guessing.