One of my first introductions to Thai art was actually in Manila. I was wandering around the Ayala Museum and struck up a conversation with a woman who’d just moved there from Bangkok. When I told her it was my next destination, she whispered only one word to me, as if it were a secret to be shared only between good friends: Silpakorn.
It was good advice. Silpakorn is the top art university in Thailand (although there are other very good ones such as Bangkok University and Chiang Mai University) and it’s definitely worth a visit—especially if you’re going to the Grand Palace, which is right across the street.
Many of Thailand’s top artists graduated from Silpakorn and quite a few of them teach there as well. The easiest way to find it is to tell the taxi driver to take you to the Grand Palace. Be prepared for a traffic jam, but you’ll be rewarded with exhibitions at three galleries when you finally arrive. The last time I visited I saw shows of graduating students from the Faculty of Printmaking and Faculty of Architecture as well as a faculty group show. Other times, I’ve seen shows of Japanese printmakers and traditional Thai painting. Some of the works in the exhibitions are for sale. Just ask a student or inquire at one of the staff offices near the galleries.
Silpakorn is a friendly place rippling with energy and excitement. One of the students or faculty will help you out and guide you to the galleries, or if you are fortunate, up to see their studios. You’ll see some very large sculptures in the courtyard, and wherever you go, you’ll find scores of students drawing, carving wood, painting and sketching.
I’m a big fan of the works of assistant Prof. Yanawit Kunchaethong, who once headed the Print Department at Silpakorn. He creates a unique type of print that he calls Organic Prints. These prints have their beginnings when he plants seedlings. When the seedlings become trees, he picks the fruit and flowers. He mixes the flowers, leaves and fruit in a blender, then applies the resulting juice to the etching plate, lets it dry, and then produces these 100 percent natural organic prints. The results are simply elegant. If you look closely, you can see pistles and seeds in some of them. He uses many different plants and leaves to create various colours and effects. He’s exhibited in Japan and Europe and made a big hit in Bangkok when he gave away thousands of seedlings in an effort to do something to improve the environment.
The prints do change colors over time, and I think that’s part of their beauty. They live! We have several in our home and gallery, and they generate much discussion.
There are two other artists I like at Silpakorn. Phatyos Buddhacharoen creates magnificent lithographs inspired by his study of Buddhism. Panya Vijinthanasarn, the Dean of the Faculty of Painting Sculpture and Graphic Arts, creates very intricate traditional Thai paintings inspired by Thai folklore and religion. You also can see his work in the new Airport and the Banyan Tree Hotel.
While you’re on campus, drop by the student store. You’ll find catalogues of past shows, prints for sale, and books from the faculty. If you can wrangle your way into the library, you’ll also see many works from the faculty.
When you’re finished at Silpakorn, hop in a taxi and head over to the National Gallery, a short distance away—not too far from Khao San Road. The exhibits change frequently and there’s usually a group show of contemporary artists as well as solo exhibitions of younger artists. It’s a peaceful, relaxed place—a nice refuge in the middle of Bangkok. Grab a cup of coffee, then wander around the grounds, and stroll leisurely through the various buildings.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with seeing some of the past and future luminaries in Thai art.
No time to travel? Next week, I’ll write about how you can see more Asian art without leaving your home and I’ll feature some recommended websites that focus on Asian contemporary art.
If you are in Tokyo—the Tobin Ohashi Gallery will be open throughout Golden Week. It may be a good opportunity to see the extended exhibit featuring celebrated Beijing artist Zhu Wei (now on through June 5). It’s his first solo show in Tokyo and a rare chance to see five of his paintings and ten of his prints.