signed and dated ‘natee utarit 12’ and inscribed ‘illustration of the crisis’ (on the reverse)
oil on linen
160 x 140 cm. (63 x 55 1/8 in.)
Painted in 2012
Richard Koh Fine Art Gallery
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
Richard Koh Fine Art, Illustration of the Crisis, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2013 (illustrated, p. 212).
Art Stage, Singapore, January 2013.
Taichung, Taiwan, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Asian Art Biennale 2013: Everyday Life, October 2013– January 2014.

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Kimmy Lau

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Lot Essay


Metaphor and allegory underpin the works of Natee Utarit’s series Illustration of the Crisis – a visual device heavily employed in these works to relay the ideas that surround changes in the socio-political landscape and re-distribution of power. Utarit does this by employing, from the Western canon of visual art, the genre of nature morte, otherwise known as still-life painting. Utarit carefully selects a motley of objects acquired from flea markets and antique shops, composes them in a specific arrangement, and then photographs them. In painting these dialogical set ups, Utarit deliberately creates distance and discord through his choice of colours and treatment of the way objects are represented; the smooth veneer disassociates them from reality and give the viewer the immediate sense that in their dream-like states, these objects are consciously constructed to reveal a hidden reality.

It must be said that although it is often believed the artistic movements of Thailand have generally managed to remain free of the influence of the West, due to the country’s inherent ability to have avoided the polarizing effects of colonialism that affected many of the other regions within Southeast Asia, Utarit’s appropriation of Classical Western visual devices reflects his personal struggle against Western influences. The impact of the Florentine School on Thai art education, and the degree of use of British common law in Thailand, shows that perspectives in Thailand are still heavily Westernised. For the artist, the language of classical painting has the ability to convey the recondite nature of modern world “truths” and as such, applies it to his paintings to enrich and expound on the particular narrative that exists in each work in a way that is simultaneously specific and universal, but also is a site of dilemma and conflict.

Reconciliation is executed in the tradition of 16th and 17th century Netherlandish sub-genre of still-life paintings known as vanitas, which are symbolic works of art depicting broad but important themes with a moralistic bent, such as the futility of pleasure or the transience of life. In such paintings, icons of death such as skulls, rotting fruit and empty goblets set atop surfaces were rendered in the most intricate and life-like details to present such ideas. Utarit’s objects, in this same way, are “…meant to tell a story in the same direct manner that characterized paintings for centuries.” It is thus no surprise that an often-cited influence on the artist’s work is that of Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors (1533), is in turn heavily influenced by the still-lifes of Early Netherlandish painters. However, rather than the pains that these Old Masters have taken to imitate life, Utarit deliberately shrouds his compositions in a characteristically eerie stillness, creating undercurrents of tension and anxiety, that culminate in a sense of the uncanny through the juxtaposition of the familiar with the unfamiliar.

Blocks of colour – a device that Utarit often uses in his works – are employed in Reconciliation and comprise largely of expanses of red, white and blue, which coincidentally symbolise the three pillars of Thai national identity: red represents the land and its people, white represents the religions, and blue stands for the monarchy. Illustration of the Crisis is Utarit’s exploration of the Thai political crisis that began in 2009 and has had continued and lasting effects on the local socio-political landscape, but more broadly speaking the series reflects on the fundamental nature of the human condition regarding the anxiety that surrounds change and its unpredictable nature. The title itself, reconciliation, suggests a positive note; a bringing together of these three pillars that have since become disjointed by the struggle for power. An anatomical model of the sacrum and lumbar vertebrae, parts of the human skeletal system essential to providing support to the upper body and what connects the hip bones, towers exquisitely above the other object and is the focal point of the work. Accented by yellow tubes resembling nerves, the entire composition resembles that of the Thai flag designed by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI), who during his reign encountered an attempted military coup in 1912. The monarchy managed to suppress the conspirators, who were arrested and sentenced to severe punishments. However, the King showed mercy, rescinding the punishments and releasing them, putting the interests of the country before his own. The white of the skeleton coincides with the white elephant in the variant flag, a sacred animal associated with the practice of Buddhism, perhaps elucidating the important nature of forgiveness and mercy in order to achieve peace and harmony. The red in the painting also emphasises the desire to return to the tranquility of the past, resembling the old Thai flag.

It is not uncommon for Utarit to interweave such allegories into the broader themes of human existence, which form the core of his visual narratives. From the same series, Candle Light features a triangular arrangement of bones, which both serve to unify the disparate elements symbolising ideas relating to the Thai monarchy and servitude, as well as to suggest the idea of surfaces being picked away to reveal truths. Coming back to the idea of Vanitas, we can perhaps see the beautiful smoothness of Utarit’s banal objects in this series, as a larger picture on the dangers of the quotidian, and the need to act to prevent our lives from merely becoming subjects of a failed modernity.


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