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Jiraparnn Tokeeree was born and raised in the Khon Kaen province. From a young age, she had been observing and even helping her mother to weave luxurious Thai silk. With this early introduction to craftsmanship and creativity, it would eventually inspire her to turn her interest in art towards a more academic direction - by joining the College of Fine Arts, of the Department of Fine Arts in Bangkok. Jiraparnn loves travelling and always feels inspired by the places she visits, later using her experiences as inspiration for her studies and coursework. After graduation, following her love of art, she paired her artistic techniques with furniture design and interior decoration - from her point of view, furniture and interior design is more approachable and touchable than the abstract concept of art, which might be incomprehensible to most people. In Jiraparnn’s view, art is all around us; the art of speech, the art of writing, the culinary arts, martial arts and so on. Aware of the fact that art is in every part of a person’s life, Jiraparnn tries to adapt aesthetic and artistic aspects into the furniture she designs in order to accentuate this notion.
Could you please introduce yourself?
I am Jiraparnn Tokeeree. I graduated from College of Fine Art. I am a design director and the founder of ‘Able Interior Workshop Company’ and ‘Pawarana’ Company.
For your design-artwork series ‘Kochakorn’, which includes a fountain, a lamp and door handles. I would like to ask you about what inspired to create these works?
First and foremost, I have to let you know that I have worked in various parts of the hotel. Whether it is the furniture or other things such as lamps, the fountain and the door handles we choose to call them ‘artworks’ because they are designed Thai style which is related to the Siam Kempinski Bangkok Hotel and its concept. The hotel’s concept is all about luxury Thai art and so all the elements in the hotel related to art, be it paintings or something else, were chosen because it is the work that functions as ‘decorative art’. That’s why we should call them ‘art pieces’ that any visitor may see when they arrive at the hotel. Before the art decorative project began the interior designers asked me to think ‘what should be the concept of the Siam Kempinski Bangkok hotel?’. I was thinking... should it be Thai contemporary or something else. I ended up with the definition ‘luxury Thai art’. Then the group of artists and I discussed what concept would imply a sense of Thai people, Thai culture and Thai patterns (Lai Thai). In the initial step we agreed to use the lotus as the core concept. However, I considered that it would not be ideal to have all the decorations in the form of a lotus. I thought about something that could refer to lotus, but not in a direct way. They should be something that could refer to Thainess or Thai patterns. As a result, traditional Thai patterns were my inspiration. These are the patterns used since the Sukhothai and Ayutthaya eras. I started to sketch and create mock-ups. In term of shapes, I was inspired by Thai traditional dance (rum Thai). Specifically, the nail dance and the faux nails wear by the dancers inspired the work called ‘Nail Tips of Nang Rum’. I want to explain why my work was designed like this even though the concept is ‘lotus’. Firstly, it is a lamp because I want it to be decorative piece but I still wanted it to represent Thainess. The Thainess is presented by Lai Thai which possesses the lotus pattern. This pattern is the one that creates shades for the lamp. I think it’s quite obvious that it’s related to the ‘lotus’. The most unbelievable thing is that, even for the customers, on the last day that we installed this piece which was also the opening day they were surprised by the shadow of Garuda. I had not intended to make the shadow appears like that and I was not expecting it.
From all the Thai patterns and the lotus that inspired you, what is the message that you want to convey to the audiences?
Initially, I just followed the concept of ‘lotus’ because I had to signify the history of this hotel. The hotel’s location stands between the areas of the Sra Pratum Palace and Sra Pratum Temple and the concept of the lotus (Pratum) was tied in to the hotel design concept. Therefore, when I designed the fountain (Kochakorn 3), I wanted to include a feature that referred to lotus flowers. Lotus flowers need water and the blooming lotus above the water pond is the most appropriate way to welcome visitors from all over the world.
Does a pattern at the base of the fountain have a symbolic meaning?
Although I wanted to make it in the shape of a lotus I still wanted it to be artistically exquisite. Thai people have lived with these patterns since ancient times. We live with the delicateness. It cannot be just a lotus. It needs the delicate nature of Thainess as well.
How about the door handles ‘Kochakorn 2’ and ‘Naga’?
They are quite the same, whether it is the symbol of lotus or Naga. As I said before, like the tips of nails in Nail Dance, everything is about luxury Thai art. The Naga is revered by Thai people and regarded with high respect. Naga is viewed as a protector. Thai people believe that having Naga at the entrance protects the building and the inhabitants.
What are the techniques used for creating each work?
I need to tell you that I had sculptors helping me to create this work. As a designer who works with artists, when I want to create something I will explain the size, the proportions and the concept of the work that I want to create. The sculptors are the ones who make my dreams come true. Even the handles ‘Kochakorn 2,’ in some parts that you can see are inspired by other works such as those by Alongkorn Lauwatthana. I saw his works and I wanted to make my works three dimensional like his. I borrowed the pattern to create the handles through the moulding and casting techniques.
Your work method is through working with many other artists?
I adapt art with practical uses. After the artists finish making a mock-up model I will take a look at the real location for installing the art pieces. If the doors are big then I will use big handles. If the doors are small, then the proportion of the handles needs to match the size. I will discuss with the artists and create first a mock-up model.
Would you describe the works that you created for the Siam Kempinski Bangkok hotel as traditional or contemporary Thai art?
I would probably say Thai contemporary art because we still see the authentic traditional art, such as wall paintings and Thai patterns in various temples, palaces and even in some public places. Thainess is obviously adaptable to any interior designs, due to the materials that we use. The materials are modern in style but the patterns and techniques are of traditional Thai art style. I do not think that I could categorise them to be with traditional or contemporary Thai art. I would rather say they are adapted traditional Thai artworks. That would perhaps be the most suitable description.
What do you think about the online art museum project undertaken by the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok to collect artworks of emerging Thai artists and then publish them on the website?
I’m ecstatic about it. I have been part of this project from the beginning and involved in many processes. I must express my thanks to everyone who has made possible this website. We really worked hard in every detail and process and I must say that I’m very happy. The project is becoming even more obvious and noticeable. At the time we were choosing the artists we even considered the Western artists but we then realised that the hotel, despite its foreign name, is a Thai hotel. It is located in Thailand and we should give this chance to talented Thai artists. We didn’t involve them all at the time but we kept searching. When the project was completed we were all even prouder of it because it let the audiences know about the history of the art collection in this hotel. Now, the Siam Kempinski Bangkok hotel is known to have the largest collection of artworks and art pieces in Thailand. There are 22 artists who worked for this project and there are all kinds of works here be it paintings, sculptures, photographs or ceramics. It is unbelievable that the hotel was able to bring together all of these artists.
What do you think makes the hotel’s collection valuable?
It’s the board members’ perspective and the chance they gave to us artists. The chance for every generation of Thai artists to join the project and exhibit their works in the hotel. You will notice that there are all kinds of artists involved, from unknown, newly graduated artists to well-known characters. The hotel gave equal opportunities to them all. The artworks here can be described as a permanent art exhibition which means that they are permanently on display. The hotel’s owner and board members really do have high regards towards art. The artists are glad and proud to be part of this project. They are like the representatives of Thailand.
What is the most challenging part of being an artist or a designer?
It is difficult to make everyone understand what art is because the definition is different between younger and older artists. We cannot truly give an exact definition. Some people say that only the famous ones are truly artists but how would we then describe lesser known artists? Creators or makers? This project gave them opportunities to become known. The challenge for artists is to make their names in society.
How do you normally expect audiences to understand your works and to feel inspired by them?
Art is not only paintings on canvases. Art is everywhere. It’s in the blood of every human being around the world. It’s only how they show it or they might be good at a certain kind of art. Art is in every aspect of science and knowledge. There is ‘art of food’, ‘art of design’ and these artists are certainly creating artworks. So, I think I’m lucky to work as both a designer and an artist as I’m able to work with the two things I love at the same time. I studied Fine Arts but never really do paintings. Instead, I make beautiful objects with artistic details. I’m more advantageous than others on the matter of perspective as I have the view of an artist but I’m also producing works. The others might not be as fortunate as me to have this chance.
What do you think about the today’s Thai art circle?
I want the circle to have more supporters. I have come this far and I understand more or less of the art supporting system of Thailand. But when I look at other countries they have a strong system and I want us to have the same thing. Some talented Thai artists are forgotten and/or neglected by the people in Thailand and yet they have become well-known artists in other countries. In my current position, when I have a supporter, my spirit is raised and then I’m enthusiastic about creating an outstanding work. Honestly, Thai people have a beautiful personality, kind hearts, good culture and we always smile. Our artworks are the same. They smile and welcome the viewers because they need more support.
What would you say about the art market in Thailand where it seems that art collectors tend to collect artworks from other countries more than from those produced by artists in Thailand?
It’s a shame. I am curious as to why the collectors are going to Singapore or Hong Kong instead of Thailand when Thai artists are regularly selected to exhibit their works in these countries? It reflects back to the previous question. We lack support and Thai people are not really interested in art. If there was an organisation that truly supports Thai artists and their works then we wouldn’t be seen as inferior to other countries. We could become a hub for art collectors and art lovers.
Do you have a message for younger Thai artists?
There are many things that I want to tell them. To be an artist, you need patience because the path is long. For those that are talented, I want them to show their potential and create works with everything they have. Don’t be afraid of being unsuccessful because Rome wasn’t built in a day. Some artists might take 10 years but with determination I believe they will one day succeed. There are factors that help them to become successful. If they are lucky they will discover these factors. Some may be unlucky and have not yet discovered the formulae for success and I want to tell them not to give up and that they possess the skills to be successful.
Interview by Art Consulting Asia
Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, August 2017
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