Imagination above Technique

The new gallery is only half-finished, but the canvases are already up. Great splashes and whirlpools of colour executed in oils hang on the off-white walls. On the floor, orange, blue and white canvases stand propped up in stacks against any available spare wall space. Outside, seated in a semi-circle of chairs in the shade of the late afternoon, a gaggle of young artists discuss their work. This is Khun Wacharin Rodnit's world at his Phuket studio-Rinda Magical Art.

Bom 34 years ago in Kanachanadit, SuratThaniprovince,Watcharin grew up on his father's rubber plantation. He would spend hours alone in the nearby forests absorbing the power and the

mystery of nature. And nature itself figures heavily in his work. We're looking at one of his works; a large painting of a green woody glade. So great is the impression of movement, the grass and flowers between the trees seem to have lives of their own. "People say they can see things move in this picture," says Watcharin. He then shows us a large photo of himself with a well-known TV presenter. "I once painted a75 square metre canvas based on nature. It took me a month. TV's Channel 3 Twilight programme heard about it, and had me on to discuss it. But I wasn't nervous. I talked for about 10 minutes, and we did the whole thing in one take."

If there's one outside influence in his work it's his students. A natural and friendly teacher, Wacharin regularly takes up to 57 students of all nationalities to Bang Pae Waterfall to let them express their experience through colour. "I tell them not to copy me, but to put down what their eyes see and record what their emotions tell them. Sometimes I learn through are from them. I want people to get stimulated by nature and to free themselves from the feeling of restrictions, and the result is sometimes spectacular, no matter how old, or young, they are."

But surely the students should have some former training? And how important is technique? "I talk to them to see if really interested, or if they're merely being sent along by their mother, or father. Imagination is the key to good art, that's why some of my students do so well."

It's obvious, from the amount of abstract works next to the nature-themed paintings lining the walls of the gallery, that imagination is the other half of W a t c h a r i n ' s artistic psyche, In the corner by the front door hangs a spotlit abstract picture in blue with silver undercurrents. In the middle of the picture a piece of wood stands out almost like a miniature diving board from which the artist's creativity can soar. there's nothing contrived about this artist's work. There's a tangible spontaneity that can be seen through his brushwork, his choice of colour, and theme and his execution. His paingtings, he says "area a search for balance between emotion, abstract feeling, and concrete reality."

An artist's life is far from easy. Watcharin and his wife Jay-Da recently experienced concrete reality when a landlord turned them out of a previous gallery. (Apparenthy the landlord preferred having a karaoke club on the premises.) To underline his point, he cut off the water and electricity and ignored the 100,000baht (US$ 2,500) that the couple hadinvested in the building. They were Iucky to find another place so soon and so near. "The landlord here understands what we want to do and rents the three adjoining houses out for a very good price, "says Jay-Da. "He's very sympathetic." Jay-Da has recently started painting too-abstracts in sweeping bright colours. One gets the deflnite impression that Watcharin wouldn't have been able to achieve what he has without her. They're a perfect couple, a dream team who exude enthusiasm and affection. No wonder students flock to learn from them.

Watcharin has recently had a solo exhibition at Phuket Town's Soul of Asia gallery, and another at the Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit in Bangkok. The Dusit Laguna-ever the artist's friend-has also had the honour, as has Chulalongkorn University. He's also been exhibited at the National Contemporary Arts kxhibition for four consecutive years. The artist has racked up many awards in a relatively few years. With the combination of the couple's natural charm and Watchirin's exciting paintings, they add a special kind of magic to the island of Phoket.

Thai Artist