Seeing silver linings
Award-winning artists hope pandemic-inspired pieces can help heal others
When the 11th White Elephant Art Award announced its theme "Endless Giving", people in Thailand were facing a difficult time due to lockdown measures to control the spread of Covid-19. Artist Ananyot Jannual said it was so difficult to think about "endless giving" at that time because almost everyone was encountering difficulties of some sort due to the healthcare crisis. However, he came up with Palung Haeng Dok Tantawan (The Power Of The Sunflowers) and won first prize for his powerful oil and acrylic painting.
Second-place winner Manatchaya Kitprasert received the Grand Prize for her woodcut and hand-coloured piece, Krai Ma Tueng Ruean Chan Tong Ton Rup (All Guests Are Welcome).
Among many art competitions in Thailand, the White Elephant Art Award offers massive prizes. The first and second winners of the White Elephant Art Award receive 1 million and 500,000 baht in cash respectively. As a result, the artists were thrilled to win.
"I was speechless. The White Elephant Art Award offers the highest cash. To be honest, not all my works can be sold. Thus, I was thrilled to receive the award that also helped me gain more recognition and more followers," Ananyot said.
Manatchaya added: "I did not expect to receive this significant award. I usually expect to receive a consolation prize, so at least my woodcut piece would be displayed at an exhibition. I was thrilled to receive the Grand Prize; this was beyond what I expected."
Life spoke to the two artists about their award-winning work.
Ananyot Jannual with The Power Of The Sunflowers. (Photo courtesy of Ananyot Jannual)
Palung Haeng Dok Tantawan (The Power of The Sunflowers)
by Ananyot Jannual
White Elephant Prize Winner
Born and raised in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Ananyot became interested in art very young. With solid support from his mother, he studied at the College of Fine Arts and graduated from the Faculty of Painting Sculpture and Graphic Arts in Thai Contemporary Art at Silpakorn University.
Ananyot often participates in art competitions. Upon learning of the "Endless Giving" theme, he said an image of a sunflower appeared in his mind, which became the main object in his painting The Power Of The Sunflowers.
"Sunflowers refer to hope and love. My paintings usually have an object in the middle. The image of a sunflower is powerful and its bright yellow colour is attractive and outstanding, so I believed it was an appropriate object," Ananyot explained.
In the painting, people of various professions are seen praying to the sunflower, including a disabled lottery vendor and customer, a monk and his acolytes, a sleeping surgeon and people in PPE suits.
"The people in the painting can be interpreted in many ways. The lottery refers to hope. During the pandemic I talked to many taxi drivers who said they barely earned money during the lockdown. A rider in the painting prays for hope. Others in the painting have sunflower heads to signify that everyone gives hope to one another," Ananyot said.
Ananyot has won several other prizes in the past, including the golden medal at the 2018 Bualuang Painting Competition and the gold award at the 2018 UOB Painting of the Year awards. Ananyot's paintings stand out for surrealistic style that expresses criticisms of society.
"I like to be sarcastic, so it is fun to create contemporary art that criticises society. Paintings are another medium that can reflect occurrences in society, and can serve an educational purpose to others. I have no idea whether my paintings will help make changes or not because Thai society still has limitations of expression. I cannot speak for other artists, but I believe that it is my duty to reflect and criticise society," Ananyot said.
Manatchaya Kitprasert with All Guests Are Welcome. (Photo courtesy of Manatchaya Kitprasert)
Krai Ma Tueng Ruean Chan Tong Ton Rup (All Guests Are Welcome)
by Manatchaya Kitprasert
Grand Prize Winner
Manatchaya, a graduate student at the Faculty of Painting Sculpture and Graphic Arts, Silpakorn University, said she became fascinated with woodcutting during her freshman year at Silpakorn.
"I saw a senior student demonstrating the woodcut technique in the classroom. I was interested in many techniques, so I tried them all and sent my first piece to participate in a competition, the Young Thai Artist Award of SCG Foundation in 2016, and won a prize. Since then, I have continued making woodcuts. I used to have trouble concentrating. Working on woodcuts helps me to have much better concentration," said Manatchaya.
All Guests Are Welcome depicts a part of a traditional Thai house. The old wooden partition wall looks pleasant with many windows and green branches on the roof. The owner of the house welcomes passersby with a jar filled with water. The artist said the idea was developed from the phrase, ton rap khap sue, or hospitality.
"I talked to my mother about ton rap khap sue and she told me that in the past, Thai people had a custom of krai ma tueng ruean chan tong ton rup [all guests are welcome]. All houses have cold water prepared for guests. It is a charm of Thai people, so I added an image of a jar filled with water into a wooden partition wall," said Manatchaya.
Manatchaya has a special interest in traditional Thai houses and created many woodcuts inspired by scratches and marks on wooden partition walls.
"I like wooden partitions that have marks or colour changes due to sunlight and wind. I am fascinated by these marks and stains since they are so beautiful. The marks are there because the partition walls protect people who live inside. I live in Nakhon Pathom, where traditional houses are hard to find. I'll drive for hours looking for them and talk to owners when I find them. In one house, a mark high up on the wall indicated the house was once flooded. The partition wall that appears in All Guests Are Welcome came from a house behind a temple in Ayutthaya province. I did not talk with the house owner because the stray dogs there looked very aggressive," said Manatchaya.
Manatchaya's woodcuts are unique with elaborate details and hand colouring.
"Most woodcuts are in black and white or in colour, but colour woodcuts usually have thick layers of colours which I do not really like. My woodcuts start in black and white; I later add watercolours. As a result, the image is sharper, but the layers are not thick," she said.
In line with the competition's "Endless Giving" theme, Manatchaya believes artwork can motivate people to feel encouraged.
"When we see dark-themed paintings, we feel disturbed. However, when we see positive or pleasant paintings, we feel calm or relaxed. There are many benefits of art. It can heal our minds and help me to concentrate, it can help lift people's spirits," Manatchaya said.
"The White Elephant Art Award" runs at BACC until Aug 28. Admission is free. For more information visit facebook.com/TheWhiteElephantArtAward.