Ajarn Lawan Upa-in | interview with Janine Yasovant | Scene4 Magazine - November 2021 www.scene4.com

Ajarn Lawan Upa-in
The first woman to be honored as a Thai National Artist
 in the field of visual arts (painting). 

Janine Yasovant
with Danin Adler

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.

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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.

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Scene4 Magazine: Janine Yasovant

Janine Yasovant is a writer and art collector in Chiang Mai, Thailand and a Senior Writer for Scene4. For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2021 Janine Yasovant
©2021 Publication Scene4 Magazine


Photos and Text Selection
Arthur Danin Adler




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