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Arnan Ratchawang-inn is a renowned Lanna artist, who has established himself within international art circles, and has produced exceptional artworks throughout his distinguished career. Arnan specialises in traditional Thai paintings, a story that would begin once he had finished secondary education, whereupon he attended Payap Technological and Business College, Chiang Mai, and it was here that he was inspired by Surasit Saokong (and other seniors who studied at Silpakorn University) to pursue an artistic and creative path. Following this inspiration, Arnan chose to continue his study of Thai Art at Silpakorn University where he obtained his Bachelor and Master degrees. At the start of his career, Arnan heavily used the concept of ‘mother’ in his art, such as with the Rice Goddess and Chthonic Goddess (Phra Mae Phosop and Phra Mae Thorani) - subsequently his teacher advised him to create works that he himself had the most understanding in, leading him to think of his own mother. His artworks at that time represented maternal warmth, affection; Lanna lullabies in the form of Thai traditional paintings. Arnan continued to improve his technique and perception while still maintaining his prior conceptual art during his Master degree study. After graduation and upon becoming an artist, Arnan can recall a time his mother took him to the temple to enter the monkshood. That experience turned his art towards the direction of Buddhism. Faith in Buddhism is expressed through the figures of the mother and child in paintings. Although Arnan focused on creating traditional Thai art at the start of his career, he later integrated certain western techniques into his works, e.g. while the figures in the painting possess the traditional Thai characteristics, the colours and shades are of those found in classical western art. Gradually his paintings moved from a flat dimension to more a realistic perspective, which would later also be given deeper symbolic meanings. This has been the constant evolution of Arnan’s artistic identity.
Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Arnan Ratchawang-Inn. I graduated from Silpakorn University, majored in Thai Art, Master’s degree. Since graduation I have always worked as an independent artist.
Could you explain your artwork ‘Calm’ please? What was your inspiration?
Actually, my inspiration comes from my family and myself. So, it’s like telling the story of my life in the form of my artworks. The story became the content of the artworks which is, basically, the story of me, my sister and my aunt when I was a kid. On the matter of the attitude of the artwork, I wanted it to be peaceful. It is the peacefulness that I experienced in the temple when I was just a boy. For me, the most peaceful experiences were when I did the triple circumambulation around the temple while holding lighted candles. Creatively and artistically, producing a peaceful feeling is not difficult, but only those who experienced it can capture and express it fully.
What about the process of creation and production? Did you face any difficulties?
Truthfully, the process of painting the light takes time. I mean the light of the candles in the painting, not the natural light. This is the only part that I found quite hard to do. It might look like the candle light is shining at only one place but actually the light spreads to the background, hitting the cheeks of the figures. It is harder to capture the candle light than the natural light.
How would you relate your artwork with the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok?
The Siam Kempinski Hotel has a diverse collection of artworks. That’s why I wanted to present the culture from the north of Thailand and show it to the hotel’s visitors in order for them to learn and understand the culture of this region.
How did your artworks look at the start of your career?
At first, I only created works with the concept of ‘mother’. This was still from the time that I was attending the university but Chalood Nimsamer, my teacher, advised me that I should create artworks based on what I know the best. I used to depict the goddesses: something that I barely knew about. They were way too idealistic which was why my teacher asked me to try drawing about my mother, someone that I know and understand the most. Since then, I use my own mother as the topic of my works. My latest work was inspired by the time my mother had me join the Buddhism monkshood during the summer. My mother is a good model of faith in Buddhism. For the piece that is exhibited in the Siam Kempinski Bangkok it is also a story from that time. It is actually the event that happened just before my mother led me into the temple and the monks conducted the ceremony for me to join their ranks.
Would you describe your artworks as traditional or contemporary Thai art?
It is like an improvement from traditional Thai art. Initially, my style was more of the traditional one but not like art from ancient times.
What is the look of traditional Thai artworks?
The line and colours are flat and there’s not much dimension in the paintings. Original traditional Thai art would be painting colours and using dark colours to outline the details, such as the traditional wall paintings. My works have more depth and are influenced by western paintings. There is light and shadow. In ancient wall paintings there is no light or shadow to indicate the ‘time’. My artworks are more three dimensional and have light and shadow to create ‘time’. Traditional Thai paintings do not have this feature. There is no day, no night; no morning and evening.
Can we say that your works are contemporary Thai art?
It should be called neo-traditional Thai art, Thai paintings that are inspired by the ancient wall paintings with the influence of western techniques. I would say that ancient Thai paintings are the model for creating my paintings. It is a kind of art that appears in the middle of traditional and contemporary Thai art. That’s what my works looked like at the start of my career. But my works after that became less and less traditional and now my works can be defined as symbolic art.
What do you think about the project of the online museum of the Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok where we gather artwork and artists together, and publish these works on the website for the public to enjoy?
It’s great! I totally agree with it. This project makes it easier for people to see artworks and even increasing the number of audiences. At least, the audiences will be able to study Thai artworks and artists as well as the goal of the hotel in supporting Thai Art and this collection.
What is the most important element in artworks that could add value to them in your opinion?
Firstly, you need to be honest. Honesty and faith in yourself come first. Once you have all these, you would want to study and experiment. Your study and experiment will let you do well with your work, especially the content of your works. However, you also have to concentrate on your works. Your concentration let you work without making any mistake. When you work, you must work with everything that you have. You need to fight and face every problem and challenge while working. Making each of your works better and better. Our career is like this, every minute is a challenge, and every work is also a challenge. At the start of each work or a project, artist would picture a completed artwork in his/her mind. It’s like the work is already 75-80 percent finished in the mind, but after that, putting everything together is a challenge. Otherwise, it needs to be better or more daring. That’s the only alternative. You shouldn’t make it any lesser than what you imagined.
What do you want to tell or inspire people through your artworks?
At the moment, I am leaning more and more towards Buddhism. You might as well say that I join it. And for artworks, I view them as part of my life, our experiences and all of our inspiration. That’s why my works are ever changing, just like my life. In the past, when I was still unable to take care of myself, I had to depend on my mother. This became my inspiration to create one of my works. But after I worked for a while, having more experiences, visiting India and had a chance to look at and do all things related to Buddhism. I was impressed and inspired to create works that are related to Buddhism. Even though the works do not directly refer to Buddhist teachings but they make people understand the Noble Truth and be freed from the suffering. Although I still cannot be freed of it myself, they are my attempt at showing the faith in Lord Buddha, his Dharma, and his disciples. They are the faiths that Buddhists have and uphold. My inspirations for creating artworks are coming from daily life’s experience.
What do you think about today’s art circle in Thailand?
I think it’s better than what it used to be. There are newer collectors now and they appear to be younger and younger, some only in late 20 or early 30. I think our art circle is gradually widening and Thai people start to learn and collect artworks. Nevertheless, it’s all about each person’s taste.
What do you think about the issue that art collectors seem to buy more artwork from other countries in Asia, like Singapore and Hong Kong, rather than Thailand?
In my opinion and from what is known it’s only for some group of the collectors. It might not be for all of them or even most of them. The collectors are still collecting works by Thai artists. Personally, I think artworks from Singapore, Japan or Hong Kong are guaranteed by the institutions in these countries. These institutions are more powerful and influential than ours. When the collectors buy artworks from the museum and gallery, these institutions have a more effective procedure than our institutions. The collectors that want confidence in the artwork, which I reckon is rather important, may go to the institutions that have reliable procedure that ready to service them.
Lastly, anything you want to tell young artists?
To all the young artists and the newly graduated artists, I want them to work hard on their works but, sometimes, they focus too much on the producing something and forget to really contemplate about the artworks. Working too much on its appearance isn’t always good. Creating art must come with researching art. It’s like a digestive system, you must take it in to let it out, if not, then you wouldn’t have anything to let out. If you regular research and take all these new information and knowledge in, then, when you want to impart it, you will have all the materials for the concept that you want to use. Apart from contemplation and working hard, the artist his/herself must be honest with his/her work. Sincerely express the idea and not only produce work for sale. Do not think of only producing works that would sell well and afraid of changing or improving it because it might not sell as well as the previous one. Personally, I think the artists shouldn’t focus too much on this and spending 3-5 years for only one project like many artists have done. Comparing an artist who is stuck in his place because of a project to another artist who continuously producing new works, even with the same concept but with improvement or adaptation on the techniques, then, the latter is advancing forward. It should be noted that no one is doing something and, then, suddenly change the style to the one never done before or not related to the previous one. For me, I might not be able to tell you what my next project is because I’m not inspired by anything yet. That’s why I don’t know what my next work will be. The process of my work is creating, thinking and back to creating. I’m usually thinking about things that happened around me at the present. My working process let me think of the next step in my work. In sum, I want to tell and warn the younger artists are that you are all equal in skills but what is different between you all is your own thought and contemplation. Contemplating about your works every day, sometime after finished your work, or other times when you have 15-30 minutes. Contemplating about your works is like you’re talking with your works and they will tell you what you should do to improve. I think this is what most artists lacks or differs. Everyone learned the same techniques, but while some might be working with only what he has, the other might have been contemplating for improvement. The latter is at an advantage>
Interview by Art Consulting Asia
Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok, August 2017
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