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Kriengkrai Vongpitirat is an artist who is widely accepted as being one of the greatest ever Thai painter-artists. Looking back to his childhood, he knew from his earliest memories that he loved to doodle, to create and draw. His interest in art came initially from a Japanese cartoon show called ‘Kamen Rider,’ that was very popular amongst Thai kids at that time. He attempted to imitate the characters from that series, and it served as his initial method of learning how to draw. Later, through the first three years of high school, he was deeply focused on his art classes and studies, and would soon move to another school and continue his interest – at the ‘College of Arts’. His artistic skills were getting better and better at this time, and he was soon accepted for a BFA at Silpakorn University. Kriengkrai was majoring in painting, as he had always assumed his interests lay with abstract paintings. However, in an effort to broaden and improve his skills, he would change direction slightly. He decided to choose Thai art as his minor, and ultimately found that he held a fascination for traditional artworks and craftsmanship, as well as Buddhist art forms. He ended up combining Thai-Buddhist art with abstract styles in his artworks. This was an important step whereupon his career moved forwards significantly, and his artworks became highly regarded and recognisable. He has entered many chief art contests in Thailand, such as the Bualaung Art Contest, Kasikorn Painting Contest, and Panasonic’s Art Contest, amongst others, and for which he has received a number of awards and scholarships. Although Kriengkrai has already achieved one goal of becoming a renowned artist, he never wants stop learning and improving his craft, and working to constantly better himself.
Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Kriengkrai Vongpitirat. People in my art circle likes to call me ‘Krieng’. I finished my undergraduate from Silpakorn Faculty of Painting Sculpture and Graphic Arts majoring Thai art and then postgraduate level from Silpakorn same faculty.
Could you tell us about your work ‘Proad Sadet Long Jark Daodueng’?
I was first inspired when I was studying for my postgraduate degree. Actually, the pattern was developed from the concept of wall paintings. I wanted to adapt fractures on old wall paintings. From empty spaces and cracked holes I thought about how to enhance them, whilst keeping the original concepts of each painting. Then I saw the painting of the demon lord lost to the Lord Buddha’s blessing when he achieved enlightenment. It then became the new concept of my art that I developed from my undergraduate works. I chose to present the awakened Buddha by using the technique of a big spiral drawing, adding some three-dimensional textures made from Japanese clay.
Would you say the fracture of an old wall painting is the inspiration key in this painting series?
That was my conceptual framework when I was an undergraduate. However, I needed to study more in-depth for postgraduate level. If I used the subject as the enlightenment of the Lord Buddha’s blessing it would be exactly the same. This concept could not lead me to the projected purpose of studying art at postgraduate level. Therefore, I looked at how to transform the cracks on wall paintings. I also indicated the ‘Buddha blessing’ by using the circle and spiral elements. I positioned demons on the sides or edges of the paintings. Demons must be presented in the dark colour tones. They were meant to create movement.
What is the purpose of using these colours: black, white and gold, in this series of paintings?
White or a bright colour means that the Buddha blessed his followers – those who became enlightened and those who did not. There are the levels for those who enlightened which were in low-level, mid-level and supreme-level (awakening level). I used different colours to show each category clearly.
Do Lai-Thai (traditional Thai pattern) in your paintings have any special meaning?
The curve patterns and shapes of lotus in the paintings refer to the blooming of lotus flowers which implies enlightenment in Buddhism. It is a blessing and refers to Buddha’s enlightenment in which we all gather to praise and celebrate with the angels. However, I didn’t directly signify the pictures of the angels.
Could you please explain more on how Buddhism relate to your arts?
My interest in art and Buddhism began in my childhood. My grandmother always brought me to make merit at temples. As a child, I inevitably absorbed all those paintings and stories relating to Buddhism. I kept on drawing and painting until I entered the College of Fine Arts. My drawings and paintings were related to traditional Thai Art concept without realising. Up until I joined Silpakorn University, in the first year, the course was not focused on the specific concept but rather a very broad view on painting, printing and Thai Art. The courses were relatively creative, though they were too broad. Things got real when I entered my 4th year. I had to focus on the specific concept because every graduate art students must discover their own characteristic path. As I mentioned, I had used oil painting because my major was Painting and my minor was traditional Thai Art. However, my gut feeling told me that something wrong. I did not like the way I painted, there were no Thai patterns, only the strokes of a paint brush.
Seems like you didn’t like the pattern and style. Could you tell me, why did you change to use acrylic colours?
The main reason was the smell of oil pigment. Especially inside the room. So, I was thinking maybe if I changed to acrylic colour it should be better. Using acrylic colours was like a bingo. I liked it very much. I could spend the whole day in the room whilst I could bear just an hour for oil painting. I used to take my leave for fresh air all the time. Thus, I realised using oil painting was not right for me. So, I turned my focus into acrylic paints. Acrylic technique however needed to go with sheets of gold leaf because they brighten up the paintings, especially when they reflect the light. They represent the value, the purity and the elegance.
Would you identify your artworks as Contemporary or Traditional Thai artworks?
In the beginning, I would say I started with Traditional Thai art and then it moved towards Contemporary Thai art during my undergraduate studies. But once I began my postgraduate studies a sense of Contemporary Thai Art became more significant in artworks. For now, I would say Traditional Thai Art style is almost gone from my artworks. They are quite modern, I think.
Is there any reason apart from personal preferences that made you change your work into Contemporary art?
In every field of jobs, observation and criticism are the key elements that lead to rational outcomes and solutions, so as to achieve career goals. For myself, I need to analyse the character and happening of the art trend, and how can I accommodate that. Then I realised I could not create full-on traditional Thai artworks. I had to take some contemporary elements to modernise my pieces of art. You can see a kind of modern composition in my artworks. I paint a circle in the centre of frame and there are two regular squares on right and left side-edges. They are meant to be doors that are ready to be opened when the Buddha awakens.
What do you think about Siam Kempinski project promoting the art collection on the website to create an online gallery?
This is a good idea. When people see the decorated artworks in the hotel spaces, they can relate to those artworks more clearly and easily. The information about artworks allows them to understand where the inspirations came from… what artists tried to communicate... It could trigger imaginary and emotional interaction of audiences. Because they know the implicated uses of techniques, materials or shapes in the artworks. Eventually, this online gallery will help artists to promote their works.
In your opinion, what are substantial factors to create ‘valuable’ pieces of art?
Sincerity and determination. Basically, how determined you are to succeed. Because if you really want to be a successful artist you need to take this career very seriously and keep on producing art works.
What would you like to communicate or how would you like to inspire the audiences through your artworks?
As I am Thai, my artworks would inevitably have a sense of Thainess. It is quite obvious that my artistic style is not absolutely Abstract or Modern. My artworks have some delicate details as do traditional Thai artworks. For example, I assert Thai patterns inside pictures of lotus, spiral patterns and elements, or the use of gold leaf. These are the samples of how I adapted Thai Art into my personal work.
Would you like to share your opinion about situation of art industry in Thailand?
Thai artists have a lower chance when compared to many other countries such as Singapore or nations in Europe. Governments provide policies that directly support artists. Some of them get a salary paid monthly – the same as for other careers. This can help artists to keep producing their works. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Thailand. I am not complaining about the government because I understand. It is more a case of ‘you choose to be an artist, you need to accept and survive by yourself – and if you cannot, stop being an artist’ for them. This is a big issue. So, I don’t really know when the government would support us. Maybe it will never happen. I am hoping one day we will have a government that sees the value of the arts and starts giving real support. I would be blessed if someone just gave us a chance to prove ourselves and show our potential. And if you think I am good enough, and then we could get more chances to exhibit artworks, it would be just perfect.
What do you think about art collectors that might not choose Thailand as the first target when purchasing arts?
We do not have an arts managerial system that, for example, keeps track of new artists. There are many, although only a few could possibly succeed. I think we probably have less than 100 widely-known artists and maybe less than 10 artists which are in the spotlight. We need a system to manage a group of artists. Let’s be honest, it is important to replace senior artists with the younger generation of artists. Otherwise the percentage of number of artists declines. That is why we should to focus on this.
Do you think that if the Thai government provided a support policy for artists, Thai artists could attract more attention from art collectors?
One more thing to add is that universities should provide an art management course for art students. If you truly want to be an artist, knowing how to produce artworks would not be enough. You also need to learn how to manage them as well. For example, you probably need to set a standard price. If you sold a piece to customer for THB 200,000 and then as time passes you need money you simply bargain with them. Maybe sell your artwork for THB 100,000. That will totally ruin your standard in the future because your standard price has dropped from THB 200,000 to THB 100,000 or even less to THB 70,000. I think this kind of knowledge should be shared with art students before they graduate and become artists.
Would you like to pass any message to younger artists?
To create artworks, if you want to be succeed then passion and determination are vital. You cannot simply produce artworks for sale and try to find a way to sell them at a high price because you want earn as much as famous or senior artists because your passion and determination would no longer focus on your own artworks. They would be clouded by money. This habit would reflect on your artworks. They would be shallow. It is such a big difference when artists use their hearts to create artworks and the ones that do not. If all you dream about is money, you probably need to sell them at lower prices. Your pieces may actually worth THB 200,000 - 300,000 but if you are too desperate to sell them, then you might be willing to let them go at THB 70,000 - 80,000. This is totally wrong. Whenever you put your heart into artworks, the outcomes will be fantastic. They are already priceless, buyers will understand. They will not even try to negotiate. Taking my current situation, I just finished a two-metre size painting. I set the price at THB 350,000 and an art collector was reluctant to ask me for any discount at first. But then his secretary did ask me for that. Because he had already purchased more than 10 of my paintings I decided to give him a special discount with THB 50,000 off. Even though he is a loyal customer I could not offer him an even better price because I care about other customers as well. I stick to my standard price range. It is a customer loyalty strategy. This is very important.
Interview by Art Consulting Asia
Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, August 2017
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