Wrapped Up in Art - Wattana Wattanapun
It's not always easy to catch Wattana. He has friends all over the world from teaching and exhibiting his art, and he travels widely. We were fortunate to recently spend a pleasant Sunday afternoon visiting him at his home/gallery/studio in the verdant neighborhood at the base of Doi Suthep. Wattana is justifiably well known for his original approach to painting and his creative use of traditional culture, specifically textiles, to convey a timely range of subject matter. Painting on a variety of materials, including bamboo blinds, furniture and objects, as well as engraving on stainless steel, he often uses female forms enveloped in the rich texture of traditional textiles to evoke the corruption of the cultural environment and to make us question the nature of beauty.
Usually the textiles depicted are in the form of the ubiquitous 'phaa sin', or tubeskirt, which is still worn here for ceremonial occasions. He blankets female forms with it, often smothering them in sinuous, finely patterned stripes of rich color and ominous black. In some works the body is totally obscured by the fabric, with only the folds and curves of the stripes giving it form.
Some new works on stainless steel play games with the idea of the pliability of cloth by depicting it on cold, smooth, flat steel; backlighting makes it even colder and less tactile as the panels seem to float, out of reach, on the wall.
Thailand's cultures are numerous, and are especially rich here in the north. But all cultures are not equal, with what he calls "marginal cultures", and especially females, vulnerable to exploitation and greed by the dominant cultures. His work uses the inherent symbolism of the textiles, which is almost innately known here, and makes us think about how the minorities of gender and ethnicity are affected by the cultural majority. It's strong stuff, but rendered with beauty, sensitivity, and hopefulness.
Wattana's home is a gallery, with innovative, movable wall panels, each covered with framed works of art so that one can get a full view of the range of his oeuvre over the years. He has made prints, painted with acrylics, water colors, used mixed media, and is now engraving steel. If you're in Chiang Mai and want to be inspired, or just feast your eyes, call Wattana for an appointment to visit. You may even find a textile-covered muse to take home with you!
100/1 Soi Wat Umong
Moo 10, T. Suthep, A. Muang