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Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon
inscribed in Thai, signed and dated ‘Buddhist Year: 2522, L.A.79’ (lower left)
oil on canvas, laid on board (diptych)
each: 182 x 241 cm. (71?5/8 x 94?7/8 in.) & 182 x 275 cm. (71?5/8 x 108?1/4 in.)
overall: 182 x 516 cm. (71?5/8 x 203?1/8 in.)
Painted in 1979
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
Private Collection, Asia
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, PRATUANG EMJAROEN: Traces and Trails, exh. cat., Bangkok, Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, 2016 (illustrated, p. 190-191)
Bangkok, Bankgkok Art and Culture Centre, PRATUANG EMJAROEN: Traces and Trails, September - November 2016

Brought to you by

Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

A self-taught artist, Pratuang Emjaroen was awarded the title of National Artist of Thailand in 2005, marking his success and giving due recognition to his contribution to the art scene. With no formal training in art, Emjaroen’s curiosity and passion for creating naturally spurred the development of his career and works.

This season, Christie’s is offering Grand Canyon; the first completed oil on canvas masterpiece from the artist’s series in 1979. It was last exhibited at the Traces and Trails of Pratuang Emjaroen exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre in 2016. The painting, which has been kept in private hands for years, is now appearing in the market for the first time. The scale of the work and the iconic subject matter together anchors this work as an important monumental work in the artist’s repertoire.

Having been only self-taught, embarking into the art world was a challenging journey but Pratuang Emjaroen was determined to pursue it. In 1971 he even established the Dharma Group, to encourage fellow artists to support one another through organising exhibitions, thereby birthing a respectable art community. It was a brave but necessary move for Emjaroen who sincerely felt that art could help convey messages for the better good of his country. In the years to follow, he gained further recognition after winning 4 awards from the National Exhibition of Arts in Thailand.

The artist’s travels around the world were also a great inspiration to him, in particular a trip to USA in 1979. That year, he was invited to participate in a group exhibition co-organised between the Pacific Design Center of USA, the Vision Gallery, the Sinno Gallery and the Press Club at 838 studio. In his leisure time, after a visit to the Grand Canyon, Emjaroen was so enamoured by the grandeur of the views, the sights and experiences he encountered that he decided to embark and pay homage and produce a series of this well-known wonder of the world.

Nature and its elements inspire Emjaroen – the sun being the most important. He adores the sun and explains that it gives without expecting anything in return. It is the source that supports life unconditionally. In depicting the sun in Grand Canyon, he hopes that it serves as a reminder of its reliability and a constant source of energy.

In order to capture the magnificence and aura of the scenery of the Grand Canyon, Emjaroen worked across two canvases, making the overall length of the work just over five metres; one of the largest ever produced. The composition of the landscape is exquisitely executed, the viewing point converges directly in the middle of the painting making it impactful. Style-wise, Emjaroen seems to have combined several. From afar, what seems like a seemingly purely abstract painting is actually not upon closer inspection. There is a surreal quality to the work that piques at the unconscious mind. The valleys are imbued with inscriptions in Thai; they reflect the essence and meaning of the words ‘life’, ‘art’, ‘peace’, ‘virtue’ and ‘beauty’. It resembles pictograms drawn on cave walls in primitive days.

The artist’s signature expert execution of seamless brushstrokes and rich blend of oils that reflects harmony and balance are seen here; an important belief of the artist about the basis of life and its natural course. He is known to execute his strokes using a palette knife, a paint brush or by squeezing paint directly from the tube onto the canvas. The technique requires confidence and finesse to lead to an impressive finish. Additionally, Emjaroen’s works employ a thorough use of colour and tones; it echoes his application of colour theory at its finest.

An earlier painting of the Grand Canyon can be traced to the artist Thomas Moran. In 1873, he partook in an exploratory survey of the Grand Canyon with geologist John Wesley Powell. His final painting The Chasm of Colorado was based off sketches of the extensive terrain and his memory of the place. Coincidentally, Emjaroen also kept a journal containing sketches of the Grand Canyon from his trip to USA. Both artists sought to offer a transformational experience of the iconic landmark through capturing the transcendent reality of nature.

Only a handful of major artists have decided to tackle the Grand Canyon as a subject matter for their work due to its sheer size. In David Hockney’s A Bigger Grand Canyon made from 60 canvases combined, the landscape work that was completed in 1998 is infused with elements of the sublime, and rich contrasting colours that are visually impactful. The attributes of tenacity, sensitivity, and redolence are what make Hockney and Emjaroen both remarkable artists. Both artist’s have enhanced the genre of landscape painting in an emotionally evocative manner.

Now well into his 80s, Emjaroen has exhibited internationally in Singapore, Australia, USA, Germany, Japan, Thailand, Bangladesh and Denmark. His works are mainly in important private collections, but also in institutional ones like the National Gallery Singapore and Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. An established artists who remains at the forefront of Thai Modern and Contemporary Art, Emjaroen works continue to kindle interest and appeal.

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