The phoenix rises

Abstract expressionist artist Chanida Aroonrungsi abandoned a stable career to pursue her passion

Real, acrylic on raw canvas, represents the big picture in real life.

As an abstract expressionist artist, Chanida Aroonrungsi, better known as "Be Chanida" spends a lot of time on social media, especially on Instagram, in order to post photos of her paintings, keep up with work created by other artists and keep herself updated with art events.

Her favourite features on Instagram are Story and Reel. While editing her photos or video clips, Chanida noticed that she usually cropped original photos by using a 9:16 aspect ratio to fit with Story and Reel screen. This inspired the artist to title her current solo exhibition, "9:16".

On display at Central The Original, the exhibition is set up to give off Instagram vibes. At the glass display at the entrance, the description of the exhibition with a profile photo of Chanida resembles a homepage on Instagram. Most of the paintings in the exhibition are 90x160cm which resemble the photo dimensions of those in Instagram Story and Reel. On a few walls, the painting series, Grid, was created in square images (50x50cm), which is the image shape that appears on Instagram homepage.

To resemble the oleophobic coating and smoothness of phone screens, almost all the "9:16" paintings are covered with epoxy resin. Since it was the first time that Chanida experimented with epoxy resin on her paintings, she experienced difficulties.

"I want to portray that there are many complexities in life, so I repeated the process several times by coating paintings with epoxy resin, repainting and coating with epoxy again. Therefore, viewers can see many layers clearly. When I coated epoxy resin on the first experimental painting, the result was fine because that piece was small. However, when I started working on true size paintings, stains appeared on the paintings because it was the rainy season and the weather was damp. To solve the problem, I had to keep my studio warm with spotlights and stored the paintings under covers," said Chanida.

The largest painting, titled Real, is the only painting that is not coated with epoxy resin because it represents the big picture in real life.

Chanida Aroonrungsi, abstract expressionist artist.

"Real was painted with acrylic on raw canvas without any coating. It represents a big picture before it is cropped into a 9:16 image to post on Instagram. Most Instagram followers do not know what happens in the real life of the people they follow; they see only a part of it. Viewers can see textures of acrylic paint on Real. The textures represent that real life is not smooth like what we see on social media," explained Chanida.

Before Chanida started her painting career, she worked as a flight attendant at Thai Airways for 12 years. Due to her career, she had opportunities to visit many international art museums and galleries. The experiences made her realise that she had a passion for art and she wanted to be a painter. However, people around her did not support the idea of leaving a secure job to pursue her dream.

"There was a time that I questioned myself about my passion. I wanted to think it over, so I changed my base to Chiang Mai and flew between Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai for six months. I started to paint landscapes with watercolour, but I lacked skill. When I returned to Bangkok, I took a painting course with Chalit Nakpawan who is a symbolic abstract artist. I was fascinated with his life, so I spent time with him and we became friends," said Chanida.

Chanida took up painting seriously after she became a full-time mother. She spent her free time painting portraits of her son, her husband at that time and herself. Then, her artistic talent was discovered through social media.

Most paintings are 90x160cm which resemble the dimensions of Instagram Stories and Reels.

"My friend who is a famous model visited me. She took a photo that showed a portrait of my now ex-husband and posted it on her social platforms. The well-known model Metinee "Lukkade" Kingpayome saw that post. She contacted me through my friend and asked me to draw a portrait of her husband. Some people told me that I should not accept that offer because I might get frustrated. However, I believed it was an opportunity. After I finished that portrait, many people wanted me to paint portraits for them," said Chanida.

Everything went well after Chanida became a portrait painter. She received many commissions for portrait paintings until she could not keep up with all the demands. However, the artist made a decision that surprised everyone. After her portrait solo exhibition, "The Artist", was held in 2018, Chanida changed to paint abstract art.

"My portraits are not realistic paintings; they are semi abstract art. I enjoy playing with colour and brush strokes. After "The Artist" exhibited, I felt that it was a point that I should move forward. Again, many people did not support me, but I thought I should go further. I decided to eliminate shapes and forms from my painting because they limited my expression," explained Chanida.

"At the beginning, while working on abstract paintings, I felt confused because there was no shape and form to attach to. I later concentrated on what I enjoyed. I tried many techniques and kept techniques I like. I think people accepted my abstract art because they saw me working non-stop," said Chanida.

The painting series Grid was created as square images (50x50cm) which is the shape that appears on Instagram.

Like other self-taught artists, Chanida felt that she lacked some artistic skills and academic knowledge in art. However, the artist felt that in today's digital age, it was not difficult to improve her skills and knowledge.

"I always spend time learning from professional artists. To gain more artistic knowledge, I search information about artists and art from search engines and video sharing platforms. One thing that I take seriously is I paint every day. I have fun with it; I do not feel like it is work. After I finish my paintings, I post them on Instagram. Some people think I already had connections in the art industry. I can assure you that 99% of people know me from my Instagram," she said.

Among her abstract paintings, viewers recognise Chanida for her Phoenix series. Phoenix is an immortal bird in Greek mythology. After a phoenix dies by setting itself on fire, it will rise from its ashes and be reborn again.

"The life of the phoenix is similar to mine. After the phoenix burns itself, it will return stronger. Every change in my life helps me to grow and develop new mindsets. Changes have made me a better person. The two paintings, Phoenix 1 and Phoenix 2 Edition 3, in "9:16" represent how people see my Phoenix paintings when they scroll down their Instagram," she explained.

Two paintings from left, Phoenix 1 and Phoenix 2 Edition 3.

Many studies and research discovered that people feel less happy due to social media because they compare their lives with others that they see on various platforms. Even though Chanida uses social platforms every day, social media does not have a negative effect on her.

"I use social media to keep up with art events and works of other artists. I also enjoy spending time with my social platforms. I do not catch up on private lives of other people. I focus on art and my happiness," the artist said.

Chanida hopes that "9:16" will encourage people to rethink about social media.

"I was really dedicated and worked hard on this exhibition. Its concept is about social media which has something to do with everyone. I hope the exhibition will encourage people to rethink how social media affect their lives. Also, there are other stories behind the images that we see on the social platforms. We cannot judge others and cannot expect people to think about us in a certain way," said Chanida.

"9:16" runs at Central: The Original Store, Charoen Krung Rd, until Dec 4. Free admission. For more information, visit facebook.com/central.theoriginalstore.


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