Sending messages of hope

Veteran artist Vasan Sitthiket opens up about his virtual exhibition 'Love Distancing' and other passions

Artist Vasan Sitthiket. (Photo courtesy of Vasan Sitthiket)

After artist Vasan Sitthiket returned to Thailand, he experienced Covid-19 lockdown.

To stay safe, he isolated himself and drew hundreds of paintings at home. Twenty-three paintings, which depict themes related to the coronavirus, were selected for the collection "Love Distancing". In addition to Vasan's paintings, three works by three guest artists -- Akkachet Sikkakun, Tripuck Supawattana and Warawut Intorn -- are also on display at Palette Artspace and as a virtual exhibition on the internet.

"The key message of this exhibition is to take care of yourself and the people you love. We have to be careful not to contract the virus even when the people we love visit us. Love is a responsibility to society. During the initial lockdown, I did not leave my place and did not allow others to visit me for five months," said Vasan.

The virtual exhibition concept is not new in Thailand. Most galleries display exhibitions online by posting videos of artwork on social media. Watjanasin Charuwattanakitt, the curator at Palette Artspace, used an application to create a virtual exhibition that resembles the gallery for "Love Distancing" at two channels -- artsteps.com and oncyber.io/exhibits.

Two physical paintings and a TV screen displaying 26 digital paintings in the gallery's window. (Photos courtesy of Palette Artspace)

"Palette Artspace is located in Thong Lor which is one of the cluster areas. When I saw the news about how the outbreak started in Thong Lor, I felt that the situation would be scary. I wanted everyone to be safe, so I decided to create a virtual exhibition and make people aware of the critical situation. For the physical exhibition, we have put two paintings in the window and a TV screen that displays 26 digital paintings next to them. Since the gallery is located next to BTS Thong Lo, people who are heading to the station can easily see the paintings and do not have to enter the gallery," said Watjanasin.

"Many retrospectives were cancelled due to Covid-19 because museums and galleries were ordered to close. However, a virtual exhibition allows viewers to see artwork closely and if it was captured by a high-quality camera, viewers will be able to see many details. In this situation when people cannot travel and have to be careful about health, virtual exhibitions are another form of new normal," Vasan added.

Coronavirus Changing Humankind by Vasan Sitthiket.

The 21 paintings by Vasan were drawn on his iPad. Since these paintings are digital art, they are compatible with a virtual exhibition and show vivid colours on a screen. Vasan is a 63-year-old artist who won the Silpathorn Award in visual arts in 2005 but he has never stopped learning and experimenting with new techniques.

"I began to use the iPad in 2012. It is another technique, like watercolour, printmaking or oil. With an iPad, whenever I have an idea, I can immediately draw it. Using the iPad is different from a paintbrush which allows us to see the thick texture and strokes but it is not as convenient. On an iPad, when I want to fix something, I can immediately erase it and the colours are vivid. Also, with the help of some applications, we can create artwork that looks like it was drawn with a pencil, crayon, pen or even paintbrush. There is also sound which accompanies the drawing motion which makes us feel like we are drawing with a real tool," said the artist.

From left, Save Thai People, Save Your Love and Hope by Vasan Sitthiket.

Three paintings out of the total 26 were created by three guest artists. The curator, Watjanasin, explained that these paintings depict the pandemic in Thailand.

"Patience Is Painful by Akkachet Sikkakun is a painting of a boxing stadium created with bleach on fabric technique. It portrays the first cluster at Lumpini boxing stadium. The second wave of the pandemic was the result of greedy people who were focusing on self-gain such as illegal gambling and employing illegal labour. Their actions caused a widespread rise in Covid-19 cases and this story is told through the painting Exploit by Warawut Intorn. Meanwhile, F System by Tripuck Supawattana is a moving painting in which viewers can see movement online. This painting expresses his dissatisfaction with the government which has caused problems for the people," said Watjanasin.

Patience Is Painful by Akkachet Sikkakun portrays the first cluster at Lumpini boxing stadium.

Watjanasin said he wanted to encourage people to feel hopeful after viewing "Love Distancing". Similarly, one painting by Vasan entitled Hope also shares a message of hope for viewers.

"Even though deep down we feel desperate, we have to try to survive. I know a couple of people who have passed away from Covid-19, so the danger is very real and close to us. However, I hope that there will be a more effective vaccine and cure. I also hope that with the ability of humans and the help of technology, the situation will eventually be resolved," said Vasan.

Vasan is celebrated for creating many forms of art such as painting, printmaking, poetry, music, video and performing art. Vasan said he works with several media forms because he enjoys experimenting.

"I do not limit myself to one format. When I have to use a different process or format in order to turn my ideas into good art, I enjoy it. In today's digital age, I also write short poems on Facebook and Line because people prefer to read something short," said Vasan.

From left, F System by Tripuck Supawattana, Exploit by Warawut Intorn and The Kiss by Vasan Sitthiket.

With his positive attitude towards new media, Vasan also launched his own YouTube channel titled Rabel Channel last year. The channel uploads content related to art and culture.

"I have organised an annual performance art festival and travel abroad every year. I think I should record everything, so viewers can learn what is going on in the art industry and what artists in other countries are working on. Art is a learning experience. Each artist has his own experiences to express. Art is a record of our era which is beneficial for people in society," said Vasan.

Apart from being an artist, Vasan is an activist. He uses art to tackle social issues and criticise dictatorship. Among several social issues, Vasan is interested in environmental issues more than others.

"Humans have to live with nature. If we let people destroy the environment, it will be a disaster. Chiang Mai used to be heaven on earth but people now want to move away due to the air pollution. I tackle many mega projects such as coal mining and the Thai canal scheme for China that will destroy the environment for their own benefit. Any environmental issue is a big deal and everyone has to help each other. If people in society have the same purpose, we can move forward to achieve our goals," said Vasan.

Vasan has worked on art for decades with the hope that his works will spark people to think about issues in the present. However, the number of people who are interested in art is small, so there has not been a big impact on society yet.

'Love Distancing' can be viewed as a virtual exhibition.

"There are not many visitors at an art exhibition but art is an inspiration from one generation to the next. Everyone connects to one another. We live in a house that other people built and wear clothes that others made. Nobody can live alone. As an artist, my duty is to present issues in the world to viewers. My artwork depicts how unfair society is and how ineffective our government is. It is up to the viewers. Will you tolerate it or do you want to change it?" concluded Vasan.


"Love Distancing" runs at Palette Artspace, next to BTS Thong Lo, until tomorrow. A virtual exhibition is available at the two links above and the QR Code below. Visit facebook.com/palette.artspace or call 064-587-6788 for more information.

Scan this QR Code to see the virtual exhibition.