Thai artist Chatchai Puipia has virtually returned to Bangkok for a landmark exhibition that celebrates the launch of a new online archive. 

100 Tonson Gallery is collaborating with 100ArtistArchives.com in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude”. The first part of the exhibition, running through 31 August 2015, chronicles 20 years of the influential artist’s work, underscoring the importance of contemporary artist archives for Thai art history.

View of the gallery installation, 2015, “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude”, at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

View of the gallery installation, 2015, “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

In February 2011, Thai artist Chatchai Puipia staged his own funeral in order to remove himself and his work from the public eye. On 9 April 2015, the artist’s rich body of work returned to the Thai capital for a two-part exhibition to accompany the launch of 100ArtistArchives.com, a new archival database of significant contemporary Thai artists.

Chatchai Puipia, 'Self-Portrait (Smoker)', 2014, oil and relief paint on canvas, 97.16 x 80.01 cm, in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

Chatchai Puipia, ‘Self-Portrait (Smoker)’, 2014, oil and relief paint on canvas, 97.16 x 80.01 cm, in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

The first portion of the two-part exhibition “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” includes more than 20 years of the renowned artist’s work spanning paintings, sculptures, rarely exhibited drawings, personal materials, documentary photographs and videos contributed by fashion-art photographer Lee Wei Swee. Several of Puipia’s most recent monumental self-portraits, made during his extended retreat from the public eye, also fill the space.

A view of some of Chatchai Puipia’s recent monumental self-portraits, 2015, in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

A view of some of Chatchai Puipia’s recent monumental self-portraits, 2015, in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

Sites of Solitude

This exhibition comes four years after Puipia declared that he would be leaving the art world for a quiet life of self-imposed solitude. In 2011 the artist staged his own funeral at Central Chidlom’s Event Hall. During the event, he released a Buddhist-inspired funeral book, Chatchai is Dead. If Not, He Should Be, complete with an extensive compilation of his artworks and letters of mourning written by friends and family members.

Chatchai Puipia, ‘Wild Flowers in Long-Necked Vase, 96 Years after Redon’, 2008, oil pigments, wax, gold leaf and relief paint on linen, 175 x 115 cm, in 'Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude' at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

Chatchai Puipia, ‘Wild Flowers in Long-Necked Vase, 96 Years after Redon’, 2008, oil pigments, wax, gold leaf and relief paint on linen, 175 x 115 cm, in ‘Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude’ at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

While the artist insisted that neither he nor his work would be seen again, he has nonetheless made a brief return, albeit not physically in person. He is working with Thai Art Archives Director and Co-founder Gregory Galligan in support of the launch of 100ArtistArchives.com, a digital archive of some of the most progressive contemporary Thai artists, curated by Galligan and funded by 100 Tonson Gallery.

The first part of “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” runs through 31 August 2015, while the second will begin in September and run through 3 April 2016. The online archive is currently in development and is expected to open to the public later this year.

A close-up of the artist’s personal belongings in his studio displayed in a glass case in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

A close-up of the artist’s personal belongings in his studio displayed in a glass case in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

A “living archive”

The artist has contributed a number of personal items, drawings, sketches and written materials for display, including books that have inspired him, such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1884) and Paul Gauguin’s Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal (1901).

A view into one of the archival cases showing some of the artist’s personal affects in "Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude" at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok). Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

A view into one of the archival cases showing some of the artist’s personal affects in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

The show also offers a collection of documentary photographs and videos of the artist. According to the curator, the intention is to show that the lives and works of such influential contemporary artists are always evolving, and in order to track these changes for posterity, it is important to have a publicly accessible ‘living archive’. Galligan explains:

The exhibition and archive suggest that through numerous “sites” of past and present creation, the living, “archival” (i.e. “multi-layered”) nature of the artist’s identity endures as an ever-shifting constellation of forces, some unpredictable, others self-directed, yet all continuing, as in years past, to mirror Thailand’s own perpetually morphing, if periodically self-conflicted condition.

Gallery view of one of Puipia’s early abstract paintings, Chatchai Puipia, ‘In Meditation’, 1990, mixed media assemblage [oil pigments on paper, threads, metal, and wood], 205 x 160 cm, in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude”, at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

Gallery view of one of Puipia’s early abstract paintings, Chatchai Puipia, ‘In Meditation’, 1990, mixed media assemblage [oil pigments on paper, threads, metal, and wood], 205 x 160 cm, in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

“Thai Magic Realism”

The exhibition reflects on the 51-year-old artist’s life, presenting some of Puipia’s earliest abstract paintings made while he was a student at Silpakorn University in Bangkok, alongside his most recent large-scale self-portraits, representative of his move into figuration.

His shift in the 1990s from abstraction to self-portraits has come to be known as “Thai Magic Realism” and combines whimsical elements, such as butterflies and maniacally smiling faces, with a keen dose of satire and poignant introspection. Many of these works, such as his scorched re-creation of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in oil and gold leaf, seek to re-imagine Thai culture as well as critique the rampant materialism in the contemporary art world.

Chatchai Puipia, 'Still-Life Vase with 12 Sunflowers, 118 Years Later’, 2005, oil and wax on canvas, 105 x 95 cm, in "Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude" at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

Chatchai Puipia, ‘Still-Life Vase with 12 Sunflowers, 118 Years Later’, 2005, oil and wax on canvas, 105 x 95 cm, in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

Puipia’s more recent paintings, such as 3:15am 16/05/2014, reveal another transition into quiet reflection and middle age with a nod to the delicate impermanence of life. The work depicts a black and white close-up of the artist with his eyes closed as butterflies flutter to the floor in bright red flames.

Chatchai Puipia, ‘3:15 a.m., 16/05/2014’, 2014, oil on canvas, 200 x 190 cm, in "Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude" at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

Chatchai Puipia, ‘3:15 a.m., 16/05/2014’, 2014, oil on canvas, 200 x 190 cm, in “Chatchai Puipia: Sites of Solitude” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok. Image courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

About the artist

Chatchai Puipia (b. 1964, Mara Sarakham, Thailand) received his BFA in painting from Silpakorn University, Bangkok. He is affiliated with the activist U-Kabat group, which also includes artists Vasan Sitthiket, Manit Sriwanichpoom, and brothers Pairsarn and Mongkol Pliengbangchang. The group was instrumental in protests and fundraising for young, disenfranchised Thai artists in the 1990s at a time when the government offered no financial support for contemporary art. Through this group and Puipia’s own journal, A Leg Up Society (published in 2008 and 2009), the artist has played a transformative role in the current art scene in Thailand.

Rachel Chamberlain

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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