of us are like pictures that have been edited in Photo Shop. There's
the finished image we see there us, but in fact, this image is made
up of numberous layers that have been superimposed one on top of
the other. Some of these layers are important to the overall impact
of the finished picture. Others are smaller, but even so, they affect
who we are and remain an integral part of us until the day we die.
various layers that make Muangthai Busamaro who he is can all be
discerned in his paintings.You can see the influence of the CC 80
Club reflected in his fondness for detail. He has a gift for seeing
the beauty in old knickknacks. He knows which bottle of moderately
priced wine to buy. He manages to dress reasonably well without
spending a fortune on clothes.
enjoys listening to jazz and rock and sometimes even takes down
his guitar and jams for hours. When it comes to painting, Khun Muangthai
is a vertable Mr. Encyclopedia, with the names of hundreds, of painters
and their works at his fingertips. On top for aII this, there's
also the Muangthai who's both a typical city slicker and a product
of the rural north. There are traces, too, of his "rolling
family" background and his gift of gab. Finally, as is typical
of someone with a city mole in the corner of his mouth, Khun Muangthai
has a sharp tongue and a strong critical bent. All of these layers
combine to shape the kind of person he is and the art he produces.
Other artists of his generation should recognize his eye for color
and his ability to weigh the elements of his composition and create
a balanced whole.
they only shouldci recognize these gifts is due, to the fact that
for more than twenty years now, Khun Muangthai has been planning
for a solo exhibition of his works, but with the start of the new
millennium already come and gone, his plans for a solo show have
remained just that - plans. As a painter myself working in close
proximity to Khun Muangthai, I can say with some assurace that one
of the main reasons for this is that he's ae perfecfionist. Khun
Muangthai doesn't want chance to play any part whatsoever in the
success or failure of h s work.
He's constantly painting over parts of his canvas, changing the
omposition, or editing out the smallest details that just don't
sit right with him. I remember one of his largest canvases, a bold
work with brilliant colors arranged in geometric shapes and done
with a whole range of painting techniques. Over top of this he had
painted the face of the Buddha in the very center of the canvas.
Finally finished, he took one long, last contented look at the painting
before heading off for bed.
bright and early the next moring, he was at it again. He removed
the Buddha's face and made several changes to the overall color
scheme. I couldn't help but wonder - is this any way for an artist
to work? Even so, I have to admit that Khun Muangthai was born
to paint. He has the critical eye and the manual facility of a
true artist. As a result, many of his fellow painters have had
one or even more than one solo exhibition, while we've had to
wait for Khun Muangthai to enter what I like to call his post-perfectionist
phase to have his fist solo show. To understand how the works
in the show will be received, maybe the conversation I overheard
the other day will give some indication.
E : Khun Muangthai doesn't fool me. Whether he's painting
temples, or flower, or women, the subject matter doesn't really
seem to have any meaning for him. All right, the women he paints
may be fleshy and sensual, and his temples may reflect the Lanna
style, but what seems to matter to him is the use of color as
the dominat structuring element in the work. He's obviously
someone who likes to heat things up. Look at the palette in each
of the paintings.It's as though he's pushed up the intensity of
the color. Here we have the hot season, and over there the cold
season. Everything is pushed to the limit. Some of the pictures
are like listening to cool jazz. It's as though he were taking
us to some distant star or some faraway country where color rules.
M : I'm afraid that the way of looking at Khun Muangthai's
paintings - focusing on theory and ignoring the subject matter
- takes all the fun out of them.
Don't you find that some of the nudes, with their painted lips
and sparkling eyes, reclining on a bed or standing in the bath,
are sexually provocative? Then, in contrast, you have the temple
pictures and the scenes fron village life, which are simple and
meant to inspire faith.
Doesn't it seem to you that these very different kinds of pictures
reflect the different layers that have made up Khun Muangthai's
life? Just for fun. think of him as a saint. Maybe he's trying
to reflect a peaceful balance between the world of illusion and
the world of faith. On the one hand, you have images of the material
worId, and on the other, images of the Eastern notion of religious
belief - simple, unadorned bar illuminated by the bright eye of
E : Oh, no! Not again! I can't tell you how many times
I've heard that kind of analysis before. It's the kind of analysis
that can be applied to almost any type of painting anywhere in
the world. Granted, there are paintings intended to reflect the
dichotomy you're talking about, but it doesn't seem to me that
that is Khun Muangthai's primary concern. I still think that what
he's trying to do is to take us inside some sort of hothouse of
color. Just look. Some of the canvases have a coarse texture,
like sand embedded in a layer of pigment. Others have this flashy
quality, like the creamy frosting on a birthday cake. Doesn't
that prove to you that what the artist is up to is raising the
temperature on us, getting us as hot under the collar as he possibly
can? I tend to see Khun Muangthai's works from the perspective
of an engineer, rather than a storyteller.
M : But that way of looking at paintings - focusing solely
on the technical aspects - is hardly new either. The Reborn 80
group, for instance, explored painting from a strictly technical
point of view, applying paint to their canvases in any number
of ways. I'm sure that Muangthai Knows all about their experiments
since I've heard that he's quite an expert on contemporary painting.
That's why I insist that you can't overlook the subject matter
of his work. Several of his canvases reflect current trends, but
personally I prefer the pictures of northern-style temples. These
are the paintings that depict a particular place.They help to
explain why foreigners see Chiang Mai, Burma and Luang Prabang
as special. It's because of the simplicity of the way people live
in these places. It's a simplicity that you only find these days
in Third World countries in Asis, Africa and Latin America. Capitalism
hasn't turned life into such a struggle there. Khun Muangthai's
paintings of village life are expression of this simplicity
E : Hold on. I want to go back to the business about
the Reborn 80 group. All right, they were trying to push painting
to its limits. But if you look at things from a more mature point
of view, it seems to me that it isn't a question of what's in
style and what isn't these days.Instead, there are these different
poles and artists need to decide where they stand in relation
to them.This is the golden age of choice, and here we are in a
giant supermarket.We just need to have confidence in the choices
we make. We're free to re-engineer or recycle. But as for Khun
Muangthai, he seems to take an approach that I want to call "screen
It's interesting that you mentioned that Khun Muangthai is an
expert on contemporary art. I've heard that he makes a regular
habit of using this knowledge to attack the work of his fellow
painters. It seems ironic, doesn't it, that he himself would choose
to work in a manner that doesn't exactly follow current trends.
is my explanation - and it's not that I want to praise him - it's
that he's trying to compensate for what he didn't have when he was
a child. A long, long time ago, he used to bum cigarettes off me,
and from time to time, I'd lend him some money.
M : What does that have to do with anything? If Khun
Muangthai were to hear you talking about him like that, he'd probably
give you a good swift kick.
E : No, no, no. I don't want to insult him. All want
to do is make the point that it's because of his unhappy childhood
that he approaches painting from the perspective of a structural
engineer.No matter what the current fashion is, this need to create
structure is always more important.
By placing one layer of color over another, building up the pigment
until he's achieved a strong sense of organization based on patterns
of color, he's found a wa to give structure to his life and all
the institutions in society today that seem to be collapsing under
the weight of change.
M : Is he kidding himself? And you - you sound like one
of those Freudian analysts. Why don't you go back even further
into the past back to the time when his mother was still breastfeeding
E : Don't be ridiculous. Is that the way you understand
what I've been trying to say? Give me a little more credit than
that.If what I'm saying is true, then things can't be very easy
for Khun Muangthai.As a color engineer, he's always seeing how
far a particular style or form can take him.
M : All right, I understand. But this whole business
of content - I still disagree with you. You know, he and I both
took part in the antigovernment demonstrations in May 1994.
is just part of the argument over Khun Muangthai's works. Which
point of view more accurately reflects his approach to painting
is hard to sy. In any case, it's safe to say that this one
man show marks an important step forward in Khun Muangthai's career
as an artist. And I sincerely hope that it enriches both his pocket
and his reputation. Best of luck!
Iove and friendship,