Untitled by Kamchorn Soonpongsri

Chetana Nagavajara

Kamchorn Soonpongsri does not mind being called a conservative. And for once, I really relish his type of conservatism which I find exceedingly refreshing. That an artist in his late 70s remains sensitive to the brighter side of life and can give compelling expresssion to that sensitivity, is something we cannot overlook. Living in Thailand in the first and second decades of the 21st century requires immense efforts to be an optimist, and Kamchorn maintains he is an optimist. I do not believe him entirely. Of the 200 oil paintings exhibited at the Queen’s Gallery, the one that impresses me most is called “Falling Rain”. Jarring dissonances (in terms of colours) in that particular work must give us pause. Kamchorn could have taken off from there and given us greater insights into the nature of things. (Again he emphasizes in a programmatic statement that he wants to deliver a universal message.) There is another painting called “Gulf War” which more than demonstrates that he is not impervious to global problems.

The once “enfant terrible” of Thai contemporary art has over the years tried hard to discipline himself. And there’s the rub! He would have become a greater artist, had he allowed himsef more freedom to get mad sometimes. Maybe I am exaggerating, but I cannot help thinking that the salubrious and rational environment of the Faculty of Education at Patumwan may have estranged Kamchorn from the more challenging, and perhaps more belligerent, ambience of his nurturing ground at Wang Tha Phra.

Unfortunately, I do not have a reproduction of “Falling Rain” to prove my point. So I shall urge my friends and colleagues to visit the exhibition “My Way II” before it closes at the end of April. The work reproduced here has set me thinking as well. Seen from a distance at the actual exhibition, these look like bananas to me, and not flowers. A certain stiffness is there, which is certainly deliberate. I guess there is an underlying aesthetic principle to buttress Kamchorn’s creative mode. Nature plays an important role in his artistic creation, but the artist is very much himself. What he imbibes from nature is relived, and then re-created. Mimetic creativity, in Kamchorn’s case, can never be servile. So, flowers painted shall never look like flowers in real life. The artist may choose to stiffen them, but he does so with artistry.

It is at this point that shall have to return to the subject of self-discipline on the part of the artist. Self-discipline here happens by design, and not by default. A pupil of Professor Feroci knows full well that he has been so well trained as to be able to take whatever direction he deems aporopriate. He is both artist and artisan. Craftsmanship is unfailingly cultivated while you are sharpening your artistic vision. I may justifiably pick quarrel with Kamchorn on his denying himself greater freedom, but I shall never have the impertinence to question his technical prowess. (I think his supporters and “customers” are too enamoured with his dazzling technique.) I am bringing up this issue because a number of so-called artists these days are pretty weak in terms of technique and have to resort to enlisting the help of colleagues or assistants or pupils to do the actual creative work for them, while they “elevate” themselves to the rank of curators. This is not fair. The school of Silp Bhirasri does not usually tolerate that, although pupils of pupils of Silp Bhrasri may have been infested with this disease. Kamchorn has every right to quote Sripraj: “I am one schooled by great masters.”

I have allowed myself some digressions in order to bring home the point that I am prepared to go along with artists of the “old school” rather than those who are deliberately confusing the public by way of a musical analogy that the conductor does not have to play an instrument like the orchestral musician. Kamchorn is composer cum musician cum conductor. That is why he merits our serious attention.


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