Some people call Supawat Thonglamul one of the art masters and I agree with them. He is a Thai contemporary artist who intentionally uses air brush to paint an entire painting as he creates contemporary art work. Normally, we see the use of air brush to paint pictures of Japanese cartoon characters on buildings, cars, motorcycles or even buses and some use air brush on small plastic cartoon figures, cloth or souvenirs.
Interestingly, air brush can seamlessly blend well with the theme of Thai art and culture. Supawat utilizes air brush to express his vision of Thai culture and society with the atmosphere of night, soft light and shade. He also includes diverse diffused colors and uses them as the distinctive point for atmosphere in the dark as he presents the optical illusion that the meaning is quite direct but the image is not immediately clear.
One afternoon I invited Supawat to talk about his current work.
JY: In my opinion, your works frustrate and annoy many people including me because they seem out of focus and very dark.
ST: (smiling) Where did you see my work?
JY: Actually, I saw your paintings before but at that time I did not know who painted them. I know you received the Bualuang Award from the Bangkok Bank many years ago. I also remembered well that a picture containing hot air paper balloons was the 23-year anniversary of your art career.
ST: I got the bronze prize from that competition. That picture is about the merit festival of Northern people called "Inthakin pillar celebration" in which we can see the merit making, celebration. This festival expresses the Lanna culture and is beneficial for the tourism in the north of Thailand. The festival is held in May or June every year and lasts for seven days.
JY: "Inthakin pillar celebration." This festival name is so mesmerizing.
ST: In the picture, you can see people light their candles in the temple along with groups of sand pagodas that people made during the day. They bring candles to pay respect to the sacred Inthakin pillar in the night. I was impressed by the atmosphere and tried to capture this moment in my painting.
JY: I saw a picture of a monk who swept the floor and burnt the grasses. The smoke spread slowly in the air. What was your intention?
ST: My intention in this picture is that we should release and burn evil with goodness. Lighting candles is a symbol that supports this idea. Furthermore, it is commonly believed that releasing hot air paper balloons to the air can take sadness and sickness away. Northern people have traditionally done this for a long time and I think this is a profound strategy to encourage people to fight against sadness and unhappiness. Likewise, the Chinese also burn candles and papers in their festivals. I think this is a similar concept.
JY: How big is your typical picture?
ST: About 1.35m. It is quite large.
JY: Is it correct that you use only air brush with everything in your painting?
ST: Certainly, the work must be finished quickly because the instrument is not convenient for long time work. The color preparation step is a bit tricky and is the main concern when you use air brush on your work. However the result is very satisfying and unique compared with normal brush paintings. I also would like to add that the colors are filtered many times, otherwise, the tip of air brush will become blocked and it is very time consuming to repair. To paint a meaningful picture about temples and Buddha statues, it depends on many things including correct information about local tradition along with correct proportion of Buddha statues and temples. But I also add my imagination in the painting and it is my intention to present in this way. We call works by artists who try to include religious concepts, "floating world". It means everything in the world is uncertain and always moves. My works deal with transparency and opacity and distance and depth. The atmosphere in the picture attempts to clarify the uncertainty of life.
The conversation after this was about Buddhism and temples that Supawat attended and captured in his paintings. At the end, he stated his strong motivation to create more outstanding work for Buddhism.