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
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
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
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
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.