Thainess Three Ways

Terdtanwa Kanama, Teerapon Sisung and Subannakrit Krikum. (Photos: Joyman Gallery)

Three budding Thai artists — Terdtanwa Kanama, Teerapon Sisung and Subannakrit Krikum — are having a group exhibition titled "Neo THAiiSM" at Joyman Gallery until the end of February. Each presents what does Thaiism means in their own way, resulting in a show that features a diverse range of works and techniques. We talked to the three 20-something Silpakorn alumni about their latest exhibition.

When did you realise you want to become an artist?

Terdtanwa (TK):  Since I was a boy my father taught me by example. He painted for a living and I gradually absorbed a love for art growing up.

Teerapon (TS): While studying for a vocational certificate, my teacher was an artist. I realised being an artist requires being a well-rounded person, constant learning and self-improving. I looked up to him and he inspired me to become an artist.

Subannakrit (S): I loved to draw since I was in kindergarten. However, I thought of becoming a serious artist when I started studying at Silpakorn because I realised that I can make art for a living.

What's your take on neo Thaiism?

S: Neo-Thaiism is about presenting Thainess but Thainess isn't about things of high status or religious matter like it is traditionally associated with. It can be about the ordinary stuff that changes with time. Artists can incorporate their thoughts into their works, which can be appreciated by anyone regardless of where they come from.

TS: I think of it as a cult that tries to retell tradition through a modern way of thinking.

TK: I don't feel like Thai art is strictly defined or put in a rigid box. There are other stories that could and should be told [through Thai art] besides what already has been done in traditional Thai art. There's no need to work within the old framework and new interpretation should happen more.

Each of you has a different and distinctive style? Teerapon is known for weaving discarded copper threads into beautiful artefacts. Subannakrit paints highly-detailed mural-like imagery on small surfaces. Terdtanwa's paintings show traditional imagery yet stand out with a graffiti flair. How did you arrive at your current medium and style?

TS: I like to work with tactile material and visit shops selling old and preloved stuff to make art. I came across motor coils that are made of copper wire. So I tried making royalty headdresses in my first few sets. For the current set on display, the gallery gave me ruby as additional material so I did research to find out its symbolic meaning. This results in my new crown set, which is inspired by my thoughts on the afterlife.

S: In the past, I made big paintings but oftentimes people looked at them for only few seconds and walked away. I thought why would I bother making big paintings when I can't communicate a story I want to through them. So I decided to do the opposite and create my work as small as possible. I think this approach has a psychological effect on the viewers, too. Big pieces of work can generate such power that viewers may find them intimidating but smaller pieces invite them in and allow them to linger. The viewers will be able to discover the story that hides behind the work. I conceptualise my work like a book. A book has many pages to get something across but I have only one page to do it so I invite viewers to look at my work as a whole before they break it into different chapters in the mind and eventually reach the theme.

TK: It began with observing myself and what I like to look at every day. I won't lie to myself about what I like or the circumstances or culture that I grew up in and made me who I am today. This results in graffiti flair that also blends traditional elements in my work. It also goes back to my family background as there's this juxtaposition of modern and tradition. They contradict yet coexist. That's the catalyst for my style.

Teerapon Sisung.

Terdtanwa Kanama.

Subannakrit Krikum.

Have you ever stopped to think whether your work offends the conservative? How do you deal with such concerns?

S: I'm not worried about people who may be upset by my work. There will always be people who're on standby to criticise. I have to try to understand different opinions and reasons. I think it's good that the art scene can cause a widespread debate so we can find a solution. I ask myself, if my conscience is clear and my message is positive, then I shouldn't be worried if what I put out offends anyone. If you have that clear mindset, then you won't let things bother you.

TS: Two sides of the same coin. Being too conservative won't lead to new development. Building on tradition isn't a criticism or destruction of the old way. I think it depends on the personal attitude, as well. If you're naturally negative, you'll find fault regardless. I prefer developing on the tradition as it would lead to a diversity of expression and more fun.

How does the age of social media and internet affect you as an artist?

TK: It helps my working process from research, info gathering, to finding reference. It makes everything more convenient. You can't say you don't have any info or inspiration to draw upon or base your work on anymore. It also allows artists to publicise their works, reach people and build follower base more easily.

Is the Thai art scene growing? Do artists have more chances to earn a living through their craft?

TK: I think it has grown considerably. Social media helps create niches for all kinds of artists who have their own way to grow their careers and succeed. However, if you ask whether an artist can sustain themselves easier, I'll say it's like growing a business and it takes some time for things to take off. An artist needs some years to grow. They should develop themselves step by step until they have a breakthrough. It requires a lot of patience and faith in what you do. I think it's kinda like running any other business.

S: I agree but Thailand's art scene is still growing too slowly compared to that of other countries. Can you live on your art? Being an artist for a career requires a lot of patience perhaps more compared to others. Our kind is unfortunate that spaces for us are limited. The number of galleries, art centres and museums is small compared to art students who graduate each year. There should be more venues for the artistically inclined to work or showcase their talent. If you want to make it as an artist, be ready for intense competition and have a lot of persistence.

Neo THAiiSM runs until Feb 29 at Joyman Gallery. Visit fb.com/JoymanGallery.