signed and dated ‘P.NIRAND 1989’ (lower right); signed in Thai (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
80 x 110 cm. (31 1/2 x 43 x 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1989
Private Collection, Japan

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Lot Essay

The art of Thailand in the twentieth century can be characterized as having been influenced by the rich culture and ideology of the vibrant nation. This season, Christie's is pleased to offer a collection of eight abstract paintings by six distinguished Thai modern artists of the period, Prataung Emjaroen, Pichai Nirand, Sawasdi Tantisuk, Surasit Saokong, Tawee Nandakwang and Preecha Thaotong. The collection maps the various threads of artistic development in modern Thailand, each artist represented having made significant contributions in their own right.

Pratuang Emjaroen is a celebrated Thai visual artist who maintains a successful international career to date. Named the National Artist of Thailand in 2005, the self-taught painter's inquisitive nature played a significant part in developing the different periods of his creative oeuvre.

Emjaroen's works of the 1980s are identifiable by the nascence of their distinct abstract quality largely due to his deep explorations into colour theory. This fascination with colours and tones continued to follow him throughout his artistic career and his travels. The world around him was a great source of inspiration, and embracing the world around him, Emjaroen's paintings matured into a visual expression of his experiences and emotions. Untitled (lot 170) is an exquisite example of the graceful and richly coloured paintings of this period, which are characterised by the artist's use of rich oils and a ruling palette of blazing yellows and oranges. Colours blend seamlessly against one another as his brush sweeps in additional strokes of blues, greens and white onto his canvas and speaks of a harmony and balance that reflects the artist's way of life and his belief that all things happen "in the course of nature".

Pichai Nirand, a fellow recipient of the National Artist of Thailand salute for the Visual Arts category in 2003, works in oils and mixed media to produce his expressionist and surrealist visualscapes. Shortly after graduating in Fine Arts from Silpakorn University, his attention quickly turned from figurative to abstraction as a preferred form of creative expression.

Nirand's dense compositions often exude an underlying sense of serenity and reflection, due to his interest in Buddhist teachings and philosophy. Using geometric shapes such as rectangles and circles to encapsulate and highlight the lotus flower, Untitled (lot 167) invites the viewer to focus on its symbolic imagery and dwell upon the cyclic theme of life. Painted in 1989, Untitled showcases his iconic visual vernacular steeped in his spiritual beliefs and his life-long study of Buddhist ideology in his signature colour palette of soft rainbow hues.

Born in 1925, Tawee Nandakawang, was one of the early proponents of incorporating the Western expressionistic style, having been greatly inspired by the works of modernists such as Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley, attempting to capture the industrialization and development happening around him. The influence of such artists can also be seen in the way that the applies each stroke to Tree (lot 168), with quick brushmarks overlaid across each other in choppy strokes. However, his works are imbued with a distinctly Thai sensibility, representing change in more subtle ways than his European counterparts. In Tree, the central subject of a large tree lies uprooted on its side, forgotten and abandoned, a symbol of the migration of people towards larger cities. However, to say that Nandakawang was a merely mimicking the style of the West would be recompense. In The Garden (lot 169), we see his much more mature realist style captured through his depictions of local flora such as birds of paradise and arrowhead plants. These were chosen not simply for their aesthetic beauty, but it was a way for Nandakawang to capture changing atmospheric qualities of light and weather through the day to convey an emotional response, showcasing his artistic sensitivities.

Like Nandakawang, Sawasdi Tantisuk played an important role in the art scene in the 1950s. Raised among the gardens and canals of Thonburi, Tantisuk attended the prestigious Silkaporn University, and like Tawee, he studied under Silpa Bhirasri, who is considered the father of modern art in Thailand and was instrumental to the development of Thai modern art as we know it today. In 1956, Tantisuk won a scholarship to the Acaemy of Fine Arts in Rome, where he studied for four years. There, he was greatly influenced by the monochromatic paintings of Guiseppe Santomaso, as well as the romantic architecture that surrounded him, and it was during this period that he created works much like Untitled (lot 165), which although were highly stylized and slightly abstracted, still very much remained rooted in realism. Although he was exposed to European art, Tantisuk developed his own artistic vernacular, becoming known for his use of a palette knife and scumbling to create some of his iconic abstract works such as Skyform (lot 164). The palette of ivory, black and grey with touches of yellow and its greyish atmosphere hark back to his mid-period style, but in total abstraction.

Following from the artists mentioned above, are artists Surasit Saokong and Preecha Thaotong, both of whom were highly influential and crucial to the post-modern movement in Thailand. This was a movement characterized by a shift away from the autonomy of modernism and a reaction against the idea of art for art's sake, emphasizing their racial, cultural, and national background. Permeated throughout their works are metaphors and decorative imagery with origins in Buddhism and ethnicity that point to fantastical settings that act as a form of escape for contemporary Thai Buddhists. In Mural Painting (lot 171) we see Thaotong's interest in light and shade play heavily on the surface of what looks like an old temple wall. Using photographs and sketches, he made careful studies of the intensity of the rays that create light and shadow on solid forms, re-presenting on canvases and incorporating them into his body of work.

Similarly, religious architecture was a preferred source of artistic stimulation for Saokong and he primary choice of subject-matter for his paintings. Having settled in Chiang Mai, he became fascinated by the Chiang Saen architecture, which is an old district in the northern part of Chiang Rai filled with historical buildings. In Serenity (lot 166), light is a focal feature of the mis-en-scene, so much so it seems that it seems symbolic of a spiritual essence that transcends earthly surroundings. Sharp delineated lines are a hallmark of Saokong's works, that expend a sense of serenity while simultaneously creating a sense of anticipation, drawing the viewer deeply into the work.

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