Sunday, September 27, 2020

A burst of royal creativity

Nov 23. 2016
Natee Kevalakul forms plasticine into a 40centimetretall bust to be rendered in bronze. Nation/Chalinee Thirasupa
Natee Kevalakul forms plasticine into a 40centimetretall bust to be rendered in bronze. Nation/Chalinee Thirasupa
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Silpakorn University alumini pay glorious "Tribute to the Father of the Land"

SILPAKORN UNIVERSITY is paying homage to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej with the lovely indoor-outdoor art-music-and-dance exhibition “Silapakorn… Tribute to the Father of the Land” at its Tha Phra campus.

“We wanted to honour the country’s supreme artist, the late King Bhumibol,” says Amrit Chusuwan, dean of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Art.

The Kingdom’s oldest art institute has always enjoyed a kinship with the artistically minded monarch, and its alumni have been lovingly portraying him and his royal undertakings spanning 70 years.

Natee Kevalakul forms plasticine into a 40-centimetre-tall bust to be rendered in bronze.Nation/Chalinee Thirasupa

Nearly 200 artist-former students, who normally work in the privacy of their own studios, have returned to the campus to paint and sculpt in front of visitors, a warm reunion born of grief but celebrating a glorious reign.

Working around the famous statue of the school’s founder, Silpa Bhirasri, the father of Thai modern art, they’re drawing crowds of people armed with camera-phones while jazz musicians play the late King’s compositions.

Amarit marvels that many of the returning alumni hadn’t picked up a brush in decades. “We have reunions every year on September 15, which is Silpa Bhirasri Day, but this is one of the biggest ever, and this time it’s all for the Father of the Land.” 

It was More than 200 Silapakorn alumni are participating in the university’s “Tribute to the Father of the Land”, creating 80 paintings and nine sculptures of His Majesty. 

Silpakorn University students who painted the remarkable array of nine portraits of the King on the school’s front wall facing the Grand Palace a few days after the King’s death. The artwork became an instant favourite of mourners gathering to view the royal urn.

That student initiative was spontaneous and self-funded, but the month-long alumni project is well organised, operating on a budget of several million baht amassed through corporate sponsorships. The goal is to create 89 artworks – 80 paintings and nine sculptures – within the initial 100 days of mourning. They’ll be displayed at the school through January 21.

The late King is seen with his beloved pet Khun Thong Daeng, in an opart portrayal, and in a more traditional style.

In the first week some of the top names among the esteemed alumni, including portrait specialists Sakwut Wisetmanee, Suradej Kaewthamai and Ruengsak Harithaithavorn, worked together on stirring depictions of the King measuring two metres square. More than 30 paintings in various styles resulted – realistic, super-realistic, op and pop art and traditional Thai. His Majesty is seen in various poses, from childhood to old age, on the throne, in the field with camera and map, and with his beloved dog Khun Thong Daeng. 

Pongpan Chantanmattha has prepared a likeness in clay of the King at age 19 when he ascended the throne. The 87-centimetre-tall bust, “Phra Bhumibol”, is to be moulded in plaster and then sculpted anew from a 500-kilogram block of white marble. The final piece – standing 89 centimetres tall, signifying His Majesty’s age – will be completed in time for the royal cremation.

Last weekend National Artist Preecha Thaothong gave a rare master class in painting before a large audience, accompanied by a suitably grand orchestra and chorus.

National Artist Preecha Thaothong paints before a large audience, accompanied by an orchestra and chorus.

As the Silpakorn University Wind Orchestra played music written by the King, Preecha deftly rendered a magnificent royal portrait set against a map of the country. He finished the piece with personal expressions of sadness – drawn, sprayed on and written by hand.

“My painting is inspired by the King’s devotion to his people and |the country,” Preecha told the appreciative onlookers. “I’m calling it ‘(89/70/4,447 = 9)’. The King initiated 4,447 royal projects in his 70 years on the throne, before passing away at age 89. And he is King Rama IX the Great.”

On the second weekend, sculptor Natee Kevalakul modelled plasticine into a wonderful 40-centimetre-tall bust that will be rendered in bronze. Natee – who’s meanwhile completing large marble monuments of Kings Rama VI, VII and IX for the Vajiravudh College – admitted that creating art in public isn’t easy, but said it’s “good experience”.

“Working outdoors is always difficult because of the constantly changing light and shadows, but in front of a crowd you struggle to concentrate.” 

He was wearing earphones. “I always listen to the King’s compositions while doing his portrait – it helps me relax and stay focused.”

Vararom Pachimsawat and her Friends of the Arts Foundation present a contemporary dance.

Adding to the magical sense of the event, dancer-choreographer Vararom Pachimsawat led members of her Friends of the Arts Foundation in a contemporary dance accompanied by the school orchestra and the reading of poetry.

Preecha had an audience of several thousand people at Silpakorn watching him work, but mobile-phone service provider Dtac was also bringing in an estimated 400,000 more viewers around the globe via live streaming. 

“The aim was to turn the activities into an edutainment art class, and Dtac’s support let us bring art closer to the public,” Amarit explains.

As the project wraps up this weekend – starting at 3pm on Saturday – the focus shifts to conceptual art and mixed media. Amarit will be creating a mixed-media painting for the crowd, joined by National Artist Panya Vijinthanasarn. 

Presenting the royal compositions will be the Silpakorn Jazz Band and the Ajarn Nu & Friends Jazz Happen Ensemble.

The weekend will also provide the first chance in Bangkok to see the 3.5-metre-tall fibreglass statue of His Majesty created by National Artist Khemarat Kongsook at Silpakorn’s Sanam Chan campus in Nakhon Pathom. It shows the King standing on a book bearing the title “Thailand”, its surface etched with the script from the 13th-century Ramkhamhaeng Stele.

Khemarat was inspired by the United Nations’ special session in honour of the King, at which his ideas on sufficiency and sustainability were praised. Khemarat, who is 69, has depicted His Majesty between ages 65 and 70, drawing inspiration from a fond childhood memory of a northern encounter with the travelling monarch.

The fibreglass sculpture will be installed along with a video related to the United Nations speeches.

Dean Amrit Chusuwan chats with an artist friend in the outdoor gallery.

Once all 89 artworks are completed, Amarit and his team will be attaching informative bar codes that visitors can scan with their phones to learn more about each piece. Amarit sees it is a big improvement over just taking a selfie with the art.

“This way, people can learn about the inspiration behind the artworks, about the artist and technique and style. We’ve been photographing and filming the whole creative process in each case and will be uploading everything to the university’s website.” 

The art institute will thus become a “24-hour university”, he says.


- The exhibition “Silapakorn… Tribute to the Father of the Land” ends this weekend with artwork being created on the spot and a jazz mini-concert featuring the King’s compositions.

- The 89 artworks being created will be on view at the university through January 21. 


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