The present lot, Couple, is a work that confronts its viewers not only as a subtle imagery but also as a trace of the artist, Natee Utarit's focused exploration into the layered dimensionality of painting. Painted in 2002, it is one of eight large-scale paintings executed by Utarit in a project entitled Reason and Monsters. The project took the form of three exhibitions at Numthong Gallery and The Gallery of Art and Design, Silpakorn University. Couple reflects the artist's abiding interest in dealing with notions of representation, illusion, mimesis and other visual theories.
With Couple, Natee Utarit is exploring the ontological duality of painting. In a catalogue essay, Sayan Daengklom further explains - "'The reason and Monsters Project' continues from the concept of plural dimensions and the relation between content derived from illusion and the actual nature of painting as a physical phenomenon" (Sayan Daengklom, Stain and Reason from the Three-Headed Devil: Mimesis-Medusa-Monsters in Natee Utarit, Reason and Monsters Project, solo exhibition catalogue, Numthong Gallery, Bangkok, 2002, p. 26).
Instead of thinking about his painting practice as an act of creation, Utarit views the act of painting as a mode by which to question the very nature of artistic creation and originality. He appropriates iconic imageries from many different periods in art history, repaints them in attempts to illustrate the concept of mimesis, or imitation, and proceeds to leave traces of their incompleteness and inherent instability as painting on the physical nature of the paintings themselves.
As such, one sees, for instance, in Couple, the deliberately exposed seams joining smaller pieces of canvases into one bigger whole. It is a mark of the physicality of the painting that the artist does not wish to disguise. A dense layer of enamel covers the image of the couple rendered by the artist; in effect, it reduces the certainty of the painting as an exact, and perhaps even mimetic rendition of an image. The mimetic illusion is broken down and denied by the clouding out of the image through the enamel layer. Is a painter's skill in draftsmanship and the ability to grasp superior technical ability? This is the rhetorical question Natee Utarit seems to be posing.
In intentionally setting out to deny the clarity of seeing that viewers are used to when looking at paintings, the artist has effectively created a self-contained world, a world dependent on no other sustenance other than what it finds within itself. But more importantly, it is a rejection of a key tenet in Western art that speaks of a painting as an open window, a window onto a perceivable reality. The function of the painter under this schema is to faithfully depict and capture for posterity what the world is. Through Couple, Natee Utarit seemingly rejects this notion. He is self-reflexive and conscious of the limitations of working within tradition and established painterly conventions; in this age of the oft-cited death of painting, Couple reflects how the artist has chosen to engage squarely with this issue.