It was a great opportunity for me to have an interview with Ajarn Lawan Upa-in, Thai National Artist
in Visual Arts (Painting), B.E. 2559. She was the first female artist to to be so honored.
Distinguished since her days as a student at the School of Fine Arts (Silpakorn University), she was also the first female graduate to
complete a bachelor's degree
At the Faculty of Painting and Sculpture Silpakorn University she was a student of Ajarn Silpa Bhirasri and had the opportunity to act as
his assistant teacher and to be included as a teacher at the Faculty of Painting and Sculpture.
From her fourth year of schooling until retirement, the university invited her to become a lecturer at the Faculty of Decorative Arts on an
ongoing basis. Every generation of students who studied with Ajarn Lawan loved it.
Ajarn Lawan Upa-in opened a studio and gallery as a learning center with
students to practice painting activities throughout the month. She still works on drawings every day.
Many people are interested in the exhibition and the artwork of Ajarn Sompot Upa-in, her late husband and teacher.
Here is the interview:
JY. Please tell me about your childhood and school years.
LU. I was born in 1935, one of eight daughters of Admiral Sri Dao Rai and
M.R ObLa- Or Suban. I was the fourth daughter. My mother was a teacher at Satri Wat Rakhang School.
In 1951, I was in grade 11. On that day there was a National Exhibition of
Art at Silpakorn University. I knew from my brother's friend that there will be an opening at the university for students to attend art classes for the first year.
I was very excited when trying and discovering myself. I wanted to study
art but on the day of commiting, I had to beg my mother for permission. At first, my mother refused. At home, it was not supported at all. I had to
waste time studying in M.7 for one year, but I wanted to choose this path of life myself. I insisted. Finally, my family gave in. I intended to study and
work hard. I was the number one of every exam I took.
In 1954 I was enrolled in the Faculty of Painting and Sculpture at
Silpakorn University There were 35 male students and five female students. I was a student of Ajarn Silp Bhirasri and a translator because Ajarn Silpa
didn't speak Thai clearly. And I was the first woman in Thailand to graduate with a bachelor's degree from the Faculty of painting and sculpture at Silpakorn University.
Ajarn Silpa Bhirasri, therefore, chose me to study sculpture because I
received a very good grade for sculpture. He suggested that artists who make large monuments of people will be amazed at their abilities.
Especially if people knew that it's from a woman.
Unfortunately, I got asthma, so I had to change to study painting instead.
When I was in my fifth year, I taught drawing on TV. Channel 4 BangKhun
Phrom, which at that time had only one channel. with drawing classes.
I was inspired by many children who were interested in attending art
classes at Silpakorn University, but the greatest thing in my life was to offer service to His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit.
JY. Please tell me about your work as being an artist of King Rama IX and Her Majesty Queen Sirikit.
LU. It began with the National Art FairArt Fair. Her Royal Highness
Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn presided over the opening of the Queen Sirikit National Art Fair. The Queen went to look at the work and said that
she didn't know anything until she found the painting of a portrait of my mother (M.R Ob La-or Suban )
Her Majesty Queen Sirikit looked at this picture and said to Than Wan
(Mom Chao Karnwik Chakphan) that she liked it, It was very beautiful, and this portrait looked like Khunying Khun Nai, (a high society person)
Mr. Wan asked if Her Majesty would like to meet the painter. As soon as
they arrived, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit said, "Oh, I thought the painter was a man. I didn't think she was a woman and also a teacher. Lawan, I am your
fan for a long time."
At that time, I was holding a program for teaching drawing. The program
on Channel 4 Bang Khun Phrom was quite well known. Her Majesty Queen Sirikit was a fan and we were very happy.
His Majesty King Rama IX said that he liked the craftsmanship of Ajarn
Lawan. Therefore, His Majesty gave me a royal decree to create four pictures of the royal family.
After the paintings were complete. His Majesty the King gave me fifty
thousand baht. In former times, it was a lot of money. At that time, the price of gold was only 400 baht per baht, so I kept the money to build House of Upa-in as well.
JY. Please tell me about your spouse. Ajarn Sompot Upa-in
LU. Sompot Upa-in was a lecturer at Silpakorn University. He was sitting
in the same room as me. I had known him for 10 years. I found he was painting a picture that looked like me, a girl standing with a rose.
Did you know when I found that secret painting? Ajarn Sompot Upa-in was
not a rich person but a talented person. So I liked him and then I agreed to marry him.
Although Ajarn Sompot Upa-in chose to study sculpture at Silpakorn
University, most of his work were paintings. My husband was known as a leader of cubism in Thailand.
The King was very fond of Ajarn Sompot Upa-in's paintings. At that time, I
used to work at the royal court in the national art fair. I found two paintings that were bought in the name of Chitralada.
The figure of Chitralada immediately told me that His Highness had
bought them. They were cubist images, The King said through Ajarn Silp Bhirasri that this person will be successful. After a while, I asked the elders
in the palace if they would like to see Sompot's work. Sompot organized an exhibition for His Majesty who came to see it privately.
Sompot was an artist and worker in modernist art rarely exhibited in Thailand, but he is known and accepted abroad.
The Singapore National Museum in collaboration with the Pompidur Arts
and Cultural Center organized an exhibition "Reframing Modernism", 2016. They selected all six works of Sompot to be displayed with the works of
world-renowned artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall. Sompot and I had traveled to Singapore as lecturers to give visitors to the
exhibition the history of his works. She went to Singapore with her son in 2016 for the exhibition.
Ajarn Sompot Upa-in passed away on March 5, 2014, at the age of 79, but
the family has regularly exhibited for him both at home and abroad.
House of UPA-IN-is open as a gallery, studio and learning resource. They
welcome those interested in art when everything is in place and safe from the pandemic and everyone can come and visit.