The day I contacted Warin Jaijuntuck for an interview, she was busy preparing for her latest art exhibition. After the Thai New Year Songkran festival, she had a chance to exhibit her latest works at Jamjuree in Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok. She told me that she worked hard for this exhibition, slept at 4 am every night but she was very proud to show her work. She was chosen to be one of fifty famous artists of Thailand. She is called "a woodcarver woman" by the Thai press.
This time, her works are paintings and woodcarvings. This exhibition is called "Maha Ganesh Arts" and was inspired from the faith of the Maha Phik Ganesh. It comprises works of drawing brushes and acrylic colors. She prepared the exhibition for a year. Her woodcarvings derive from the faith and respect for the Maha Ganesh, the god and symbol of the teacher who gave his blessing to artists. Her faith helped to accomplish the hard and tedious work.
She was entranced with drawing since childhood, but the art of woodcarving was not considered suitable for woman artists. Warin didn't think so. Despite her feminine appearance, she chose woodcarving art because she loves to do hard work. She told me that art depends on the love for the work involved. Hammer and wooden chisel have to be used imaginatively and with high concentration. She has been interviewed many times in women's magazines, television shows and magazines for home decoration. She is referred to as "Salah". It means experienced art teacher. In the past, Salah referred only to male artists but at present many female artists are called "Salah" as well.
She said, "I was graduated in product design. lab design, scientific tools and furniture products almost 10 years ago. The jobs I had made me uncomfortable because I realized that these works didn't suit me. In my free time, I draw a pictures in the working room. I create abstract painting with water color and oil color alone or with some friends. I chose to study woodcarving with Salah Petch Wiriya, the owner of Baan Chang Nak, in Chiang Mai. I come from a family of carpenters. My father was a furniture maker and my grandfather is a general carpenter. I felt happy with the pile of teak wood I saw everyday. I wanted to do something with them and it spurred my interest in woodcarving arts. A distance of 500 kilometers, I drove from Bangkok to Chiang Mai many times to learn woodcarving with Salah Petch Wiriya who is well known for elephant woodcarving. Then I decided to quit my job and become a full time artist instead. Arts make me happy more than my commercial product design.
The mixture of woodcarving and new artistic views play an important role together, for example, painting on wood. A few woodcarving teachers recommended that I study the real nature of elephants. Moreover, I knew the best kind of wood for woodcarving. Mostly we chose old teak woods from natural timber.
At that time, Lanna woodcarver clubs developed and the Support Salah Lanna club was restored to show their work at Chiang Mai University's Art museum. They encourage the new young generation to understand local knowledge of Lanna culture, I had a chance to help the club and studied how to make a website for myself and the club. I did those web sites myself. I'm also the webmaster and coordinator because I would like to help the club to spread the knowledge as quickly as possible. This is one way to give people knowledge of the arts. "Salah" is a word from Burma language that means art teacher. There are five kinds of Salah: Fine Arts Salah, Woodcarving Salah, Metal Salah, Pottery Salah and Handicraft Salah.
There is an Art Market exhibition in Songkran Festival period. Local tradition and culture shows are held at Chiang Mai University every year. I came to help, coordinate and solve the problems they encounter. Arts cannot exist if the price is too high to buy or the artworks are far away from the buyers. Sometimes the middlemen took advantage and set the inappropriate prices without understanding the artworks.
Silapa Jak Plai Nguang (art from elephants' nose) is an exciting project at the Mae Sa elephant camp near Chiang Mai. There I taught small elephants to draw pictures. There are three elements for success: elephant trainers, art teachers and, or course, elephants. It's a wonderful opportunity to be a teacher of elephants.
The artworks from elephants were shown at the Imperial Mae Ping hotel. At that time, I had been with elephants for three months. I began to understand their emotions, abilities and intelligence. An elephant uses its nose to smell our feet as a greeting to ensure that we are the same group of persons they know. Some elephants are like small children with nannies. They respond to the commands of their trainers. I saw them smile and they hugged me with their noses. Elephant teaching and paintings from elephants are daily activities and tourists can see them every day at the Mae Sa elephant camp.
Tell us about the traveling artist project.
I and my friends used to have gallery at Suan Lum Night Bazaar, Bangkok. Now it is closed because we cannot afford the rent. The traveling artist project was an idea of mine and turned into a very good project. There are more than 30 artists in our project. We travel to any place the a client invited us to go. We found that department stores are good locations to exhibit our works. Families who are shopping in there can visit and buy our artworks to take back home.
How much does it cost for your painting or woodcarving as well as mixed carving and to whom did you sell the art. Thai of foreigners?
Paintings and woodcarvings are not so expensive, beginning at 10,000 baht ($286 USD). Many Thai people bought my artworks to decorate their homes. A foreigner told me that the delivery cost is more expensive than the woodcarving. I understood that 10,000 Baht for most Thai people was too expensive for them. Our work cost a lot but I always realize the reality of the price. Many Thai buyers do not bargain the price. Some of them are Thai women. They liked my background and my works.
How is the exhibition at the Jamjuree art gallery?
For all artists, the exhibition is an inspiration. I personally loved and respected the Ganesh, the symbols of all arts. If I draw pictures representing myself, I would try to draw the Ganesh. At first it was hard because I had to find images from the legends of the Ganesh. One day, I put some color on the wood, not cutting the wood. I had to demonstrate this to audiences in the traveling artist project. The moment I turned back to see the wood, I saw the Ganesh like a transparent body. At that time I was not so sure about this. Maybe I was so tired but I got more motivation to complete that work. In only a half a day the work was done. That day I sold my artworks and thought that the Ganesh blessed me. After that my friends bought the Ganesh pictures and amulets.
Tell me how to do the mixed woodcarving of a Ganesh figure
To put the color to wood I always use acrylic colors and choose colors l like. Then I see the position of the nose. The other positions are ears. I use color according to the days—different forms such as hold the rice and sickle or step on the rat. Something I want to do in this exhibition is to portray the Ganesh as female. I've never seen it before but I'm going to try to do it.
Do you have problems with other artists because you are not from a famous art school? As you know, in Thailand some believe that a person who studies art at a famous university is accepted more than others?
I do art because I love it. I tried to get hold of the frame and do it with love. I don't care what people say about me and my work. I'm proud of myself as a woman from northern Thailand. I never rest during the work time. Some of my works took almost a year to complete.
Can I ask you personal life? Are you married? What is he doing?
No, but I have my boyfriend. He is also a professor in Thai arts.
Can you cook?
Yes I have brothers and sisters who stay with me - so I am a good cook.
Do you like cats?
Yes, in my house in Bangkok I still have two Persian cats and in my house in Sansai Chiang Mai my cats stay with my mother.
Warin Jaijuntuck's exhibition opened on April 24 and will continue
through May 6.