By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
Titled “Art Brut: Figure of Unknown Beauty”, the exhibition showcases a variety of artworks by prison inmates, homeless persons, the physically impaired and the autistic. The paintings, sculptures, photographs, mixed media and graffiti by 51 Thai and Japanese people with no formal art training are described as raw, straightforward, sincere and authentic in contrast to tradition of fine art.
Photo courtesy of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
“Art brut”, a French term for raw art, was coined by French artist Jean Dubuffet in 1945 to identify works created by mentally and physically disabled individuals, eccentrics and social misfits in a naive, raw, free, unexplainable and ruleless form.
“Their works have taught me that an abundant knowledge of art theory doesn’t mean that we can create a good work of art. Sometimes, we have to unleash our hidden human side in order to create works that are executed with authentic emotion and spiritual value,” says Suebsang Sangwachirapiban, the Thai curator of the exhibition.
Preecha's paintings/Nationphoto: Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
Continuing until November 3, the exhibition, a collaboration between Japanese and Thai institutes, is regarded as the largest-scale movement of Art Brut in Southeast Asia and is divided into five main themes.
The first theme “Repetition, dense and homogenous” highlights the expression of rawness through repetitive strokes of paintbrush and pen. Six inmates of Thonburi Remand Prison are the Thai representatives and their paintings and drawings express loneliness and a hunger for freedom through the use of dull shades and metaphoric images like candles, skulls, chains, stairs, and high walls separating their world from that outside.
Theerawat's works/Nationphoto: Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
“I’m thankful that the prison allows the inmates to freely express their thoughts no matter how negative these might be,” says Suebsang. “Some works depict painful and tragic memories and confusion while several pieces reflect the yearning for freedom through simple and abstract forms.”
An inmate named Preecha offers a series of seven semi-abstract paintings illustrating an isolated and deserted land in gloomy darkness with freeform and strong brushstrokes while fellow inmate Theerawat uses brush rotations to give eerie dimensions to his seven paintings highlighting the candle image as a metaphor of his search of freedom.
Akane Kimura's drawings/Nationphoto: Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
Akane Kimura from Japan uses oil marker pens in blue, red and black to create continuous repetition of strokes.
“The lines are drawn without hesitation and are repeated with a certain regularity. Each work takes about two to three minutes to complete. She enjoys the sound of her marker pen moving quickly and continuously up and down when drawing as well as the sound when the pen comes off the paper and hits the drawing board. For her, it a kind of exhilaration,” says the Japanese curator Seina Kimoto.
The Art Brut movement also celebrates the creators’ ability to use material freely available among existing resources and that forms the second theme of the exhibition, “Raw materials and creation in everyday life”.
Shota Katsube uses twisted metal wire to create miniature warriors./Nationphoto:Rachanon Intharaksa
Twisted metal wire that is normally used to tie bread bags is the main material used by Japanese creator Shota Katsube who skillfully twists them into an army of miniature warriors that look as if they have walked off the page of a comic book.
Thiti Kaowprathana's caravan of paper vehicles./Nationphoto:Rachanon Intharaksa
Adjacent is Thailand’s Thiti Kaowprathana’s caravan of public transport vehicles from public buses, trucks and tour buses to taxis and sedans, each of them fashioned out of a single sheet of white cardboard. The components of each vehicle – both exteriors and interiors – like seats, consoles, air-conditioners – are replicated in fine detail.
Sakpong's sawdust sculptures/Nationphoto:Rachanon Intharaksa
Sakpong, an inmate, has also created a series of animal sculptures from sawdust, confining them in cages, and chains and by stairs to represent his struggle for freedom.
“Desire, the source, what makes them create” theme is best described by the paintings of Madee Boonchuen, a familiar face to many Thai artists, and a reliable transporter of artworks. For more than a decade, Madee, or Choke as he is more familiarly known, has been the favoured driver of many artists when they need their works transported from one destination to another. Despite never attending art school, his experiences with art have inspired him to produce his own pieces.
Madee Boonchuen's painting/Nationphoto:Rachanon Intharaksa
His paintings are as playful and humorous as they are painfully satirical. He shows himself as the victim of a sick society by featuring his portrait in a rural setting. One picture shows him smiling happily while feeding a dog while in the background is a dead canine and two black-clad men killing the chickens in the coop.
The theme “Art which is born of a relationship” explores the background of the production and the relationship between the creators and people around them. Self-taught artist Peeraphat Aukkaraphat, the owner of the Art on Street Gallery at Chatuchak Weekend Market, brings the subject to life in his two works.
The painting featuring an image of Prof Silpa Bhirasri by Peeraphat Aukkaraphat /Nationphoto:Rachanon Intharaksa
Untramelled by convention, Peeraphat’s paintings revolving around the Buddhist theme are for his own pleasure and not for sale. His works come with the label saying “for free if we have a good talk” and his sincerity impressed the famous artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert, who after such a “talk” was eventually rewarded with two artworks for free.
The video of Samer Peerachai at work /Nationphoto:Rachanon Intharaksa
The final theme “For further creation” tackles collaboration. Samer Peerachai, a homeless person, likes to create graffiti art in public spaces such as the bus stop, walls, and foundation pillars. His works are done in a mind-mapping-like style with coded numbers and symbols and they are recorded in video format at exhibition together with one of his works with pen on canvas.
“He said he was a former Marine but his loss of family forced him to live on the streets. He doesn’t talk much and panics that some people will come to catch and harm him. Though he is mentally ill, his works imply orderly mind-mapping thoughts,” says Suebsang.
The collaborative work by Hideyuki Igarashi and Masanori Kurachi /Photo courtesty of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
For more than 25 years, Japanese artist Hideyuki Igarashi has collaborated with Masanori Kurachi who suffers from autism to create some 10,000 drawings born out of the reciprocal approach method, which sees the two of them alternately drawing as a way of communication and to develop the possibility for new creations. On display at the exhibition is a collection of 100 postcard-size drawings on which the two have worked together.
>>> “Art Brut: Figure of Unknown Beauty” continues until November 3 at the main gallery on the eight floor of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.
>>> The centre is located at Pathumwan Intersection, opposite MBK mall (BTS: National Stadium).
>>> It’s open daily except Monday from 10am to 9pm.
>>> Call (02) 214 6630-8 or visit www.Bacc.or.th.