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Alongkorn Lauwatthana was born and raised in the north of Thailand, in Nan. Throughout his childhood, he often visited the temple with his mother, who frequently offered food to the monks there (offering food is a ritual of Buddhism). While there, he would admire the wall paintings found inside the temples, and it was around this time he realised that he wanted to be an artist. A young self-taught artist, Alongkorn soon started doodling around and imitating Thai and Japanese cartoon characters. Later on, in his teenage life, with his engagement in Buddhism, he discovered his personal artistic style tending towards traditional Thai painting. He liked the precise details in Thai paintings in particular. The character of his artwork has developed progressively over time, and Alongkorn was soon entering art into contests. Ultimately, he was accepted to study art further at the Faculty of Painting, Sculpture and Graphic Arts, Silapakorn University. The turning point of his artistic career would surely be when he moved to India to do an MFA majoring in painting. He not only found his own artistic identity, but also his vocation in life. From his time in India, where the history of Buddhism originates, he grew a deeper understanding of the belief and the culture in Thailand – as the Indian culture strongly impacted Thai lives in ancient times. Alongkorn picked up valuable experience and knowledge that helped develop his art since this time. By now he produces what can be described as neo-traditional Thai artworks - a combination of Thai traditional art and a more contemporary style. His artworks are highly regarded and thought fondly of by a number of art lovers.
Could you please introduce yourself?
I am Alongkorn Lauwatthana. I graduated my Bachelor’s degree from Faculty of Painting, Sculpture, and Graphic Arts, Silpakorn University. I majored in Thai Art. Afterwards, I achieved a Post-Diploma from Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan. Currently, I’m an independent artist. I create Thai traditional artworks. Some may call them Neo-traditional Thai Art. But to me, I like to call them as Symbolic Art.
Could you tell us about the inspiration of the series ‘The Abiding Faith’?
The inspiration of this series came from my own thoughts. I don’t know about other people’s opinion on faith or beliefs in religion but, for me, it is like we question ourselves: “if others have faith, then, what about me?” To this question, I answered myself that “yes, I do have faith.” From this answer, I named this series ‘The Abiding Faith” and in this series, which I previously exhibited in the National Gallery, Bangkok, I separated the series into four sub-series. The first sub-series is ‘East Meets West’. The second one is ‘The Milky Way’. The third in the series is ‘The Universe and Equilibrium’ which is the huge painting that currently is shown in the lobby of Siam Kempinski Hotel. The fourth is ‘The Universe and the Equilibrium: White, Black and Gold.’
Why did you choose to use faith as a topic?
It is the faith in goodness, in beauty and in truth. These are all the significant meanings of this series. What looks like a tree in the paintings could merely be a tree but it could also be the Bodhi Tree. Actually, I painted it symbolically because I think I am good at metaphoric work which is how we paint one thing in order to denote another. Thus, each tip of ‘kranok’ patterns in the paintings is not only a pattern with the tip rising upward but it alludes to the penetration of wisdom which basically means that ‘kranok’ is wisdom. Therefore, the wisdom under the tip is like our wisdom from our own life experiences that we gathered over time. In the actual work, the tree I depicted in the paintings which the viewers see as a lotus flower will be shown as an upside and downside lotus pattern which means the birth and death of humans. We are born and then we die. We build our virtues until our final rebirth but, eventually, it is our wisdom that is at the end of our life.
Would you say your work is a metaphor of the growth of a human’s wisdom?
Visitors to the hotel will be able to recognise the message in the paintings. Some experts had asked whether Kiew’s (Alongkorn’s) works have power or not? And is there any good thing in the works? And I answered that ‘Yes, there is. If not, I would not include any significant message into the painting’. Basically, I invented the symbolic meaning and imparted it in the painting. The significant message that I leave in my work is virtue. The first virtue is the ‘Summathithi’ (right views). According to the Lord Buddha’s teaching, the Four Noble Truths are ‘Dukkha’, ‘Samudaya’, ‘Nirodha’ and ‘Marga’. The first ‘Marga’ (the path leading to cessation) is think well. Once we think of good things, right things, other goodness comes to us.
How is the process of drawing Lai Thai as you have done it related to Buddhism?
My ‘kranok’ is quite different from others. If it is really the original pattern, it would curve up at the start of the pattern. But my pattern has a knot at the beginning. It is noticeable from my works. There is a knot which refers to how, before a person grows, he/she must go through some life experience. Humans must face suffering before it will pass, before he/she will grow and gain wisdom. The ‘kranok’ that appears is a metaphor of wisdom, of experience that passed - whether it is happiness or suffering. Therefore, the number of ‘kranok’ is equal to the wisdom that a person gains from his/her life experience.
Can we say that your work is Contemporary Thai Art?
The experts have defined my works as Neo-Traditional Thai Art. It’s like a mixture of contemporary and traditional Thai Art.
What is the difference between this definition and the Traditional Thai Art?
For example, the ‘kranok’ pattern was initially used as merely a decoration and there is no special meaning behind it. It might allude to progression. But, as an artist, I added metaphorical meaning into it. As I said before, it is not just a traditional Thai ‘kranok’ pattern but I used it as a metaphor of wisdom and of ‘birth-death’. It is a symbol of Buddha’s teachings.
What is usually the main feature of the works of Traditional Thai Art?
If it is specifically Traditional Thai Art, the artists would adhere to the history of the Lord Buddha and then narrate the story in Narrative Art style. But for Dharmic Paradox painting, the metaphoric messages are different in the way that it requires more contemplation to comprehend. As I said, it is an expression of one thing in order to means another. Thus, an intelligent person would have been able to read the hidden message. There are many people who ask me “why you didn’t write an explanation?” But I think that good art is the art that can explain itself and to those ignorant and uninterested people, they would have perceived the pattern just as a ‘kranok’ pattern.
What do you think about the online art museum project undertaken by the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok to collect artworks of Thai artists and then publish them on the website?
I think it is a great idea to educate people so that they will see that Thai Art is not inferior to any other art in the world. We have our own beliefs and principles. There are more messages in Thai art than some other arts that are only superficial. Thai Art, in my opinion, has principles and significant meanings. It conveys messages and is not merely pretty drawing. It gives happiness and goodness to viewers. If you notice, in flourishing countries, art is one of the top factors.
What are the key factors that would make artworks outstanding?
I would say that it is to create the works that best match the creators. In art circles, it is called identity. To have identity is to remain as yourself and to create work that has never been created before. Even if it was created before, it must be unique, such as it has never been created here or in this way. Thus, you must come here, to Siam Kempinski hotel, to see it.
What is the most challenging part of being an artist?
For me? The challenging part is…that the successfulness in my eyes is not money but rather from the happiness of the viewers that see my works and perceive the messages in the painting. Even though they could not fully read the messages, they would be able to see its beauty.
What/How do you expect audiences to understand and/or get inspiration from seeing your artworks?
Most of my works are what I personally define as Symbolic Art or Metaphoric Art. The main purpose is to let every audience be able to think. I believe that I can make normal person become someone special. Once you think of doing good things, the thought will lead you to good life. But, if you are unable to think of good deeds, then you will fall or remain stuck in your place. Once you think of good deeds and also follow them through then something great will happen. Once it happens, your world will change. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX) gave a speech: ‘Do your best in your own profession’. I just do my best in my own profession, as an artist, and as a painter.
What do you think about today’s Thai art circle?
Truthfully, I must say that artworks and artists are all advancing well but the government and other related public organisations do not support us as much as other countries. Compare to our neighbours, for instance Japan and Korea, they are all advanced far beyond us because they have good procedures that support their art worlds. Their governments also support their art circles. But the Thai art circle is still functioning in a self-service system. We have to provide for ourselves.
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 those from Thailand?
The reason is education. Just as we do here, like filming an educational video to show what the artists are thinking, the audiences will see the picture, the thought and the purpose of art. I believe that this message will reach the audiences. But today, Thai artworks or Thai Art are not approachable because people are uninterested and there is no one that publicises it well enough. But regarding the artworks, I must say that we are not losing out to other countries. For example, my works and Chalermchai Kositpipat’s ‘Wat Rong Khun’. Chalermchai also created ‘kranok’ pattern that is not one of the original patterns, right? Like I said, the metaphoric message was formed from Chalermchai’s artistic perspective. The white colour also refers to purity. Finally, people from all over the world come to ‘Wat Rong Khun’ for what? They know that if they go to Bangkok, they must visit the ‘Wat Phra Kaew’, but if they go to Chiang Rai, they must go to ‘Wat Rong Khun’. Good art is able to shine brightly on its own.
Do you have a message for younger Thai artists?
I am an art worker. I love to draw and paint. Let me make this simple. If you want to be an artist, if you want to create artworks, you must work. But if you merely think and don’t follow it through, then, this is not enough. You must set yourself to do it. Because when you do it, the works will teach you. At the starting stage, it might look like you have to nurture the work in every way but after the work progresses up to a certain level, the work will nurture you. It is like how I live and travel to other countries with my profession. Some careers may not take you far but the artworks that I create can take me that far.
Interview by Art Consulting Asia
Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, August 2017
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