Bangkok in Christchurch

HOLY FIRE is now open at Chambers Art Gallery, showcasing ten of my works from Bangkok.

After spending so long developing images and working with 'theoreticals', it was satisfying-to-the-core to finally see some completely, utterly, thoroughly finished artworks. Ronald Mottram Picture Framers even got the lithographs framed over the weekend and hung perfectly into the space.

I am grateful and indebted to the people that responded to my emails and calls when I needed help during the past few weeks. Usually I am pridefully independent, but it was heart-warming and humbling to know that there was a community of artists and friends who were willing to lend their wisdom, time and support - especially John Pusateri, of the Auckland Print Studio, without whom this exhibition probably wouldn’t have happened. I have actually never met John, but he was generous with his resources, experience, and always responded to my unusual print queries while I was working in the lonely hours of the Ilam Print Studio; a total exhibition-saver!

And as usual, it was a rambling, people and conversation-filled delight working with the Chambers team!

Lithography!

This photo was taken at 5am yesterday morning, after a final nineteen-hour printing session in the Ilam Print Studio. It was the end of four days of lithography, where I was printing works for my exhibition opening at Chambers on Tuesday. 

This is the same print studio where I did my MFA and where I spent h-o-u-r-s inking messy intaglio plates. I love it here; the student energy felt positive and a number of the faculty stopped by to say hi. It was also soo goood to feel all possessive and territorial of my old print studio once more, even just for a few days. 

Sorry I didn’t visit anyone, but I’ll be back in Christchurch next week for the opening.

Last day :(

As I arrive back to my hostel on my last day in Bangkok I am reminded of the first time I arrived at W Market three months ago. It is 6am, the market sits abandoned and an eerie early morning haze filters over the tables of leftover food. In this moment W Market seems an apt reflection of myself: very tired, smelling of smoke and alcohol, and feeling a bit hungover. My nighttime escapades were insane (as expected in Bangkok), however the joys of the night were tainted by the sadness of seeing so many new friends for the last time.

I think I will need to return to Bangkok.

Looking for Shadows

What did I do during my last week in Bangkok, besides lots of dancing, sleeping in and enjoying the beautiful company of Ietje? Well, obviously, I made another exhibition - the logical thing to do when you have an art gallery at your disposal.

The mildew prints I buried and hid throughout the streets of Bangkok were relatively successful. I managed to hunt out most of the smaller prints but many of them had warped and swollen or had dried-out and didn’t show any change. A selection of the more successful smaller ones I will take back to New Zealand, but I am currently undecided about what to do with them.

The larger sheets of card developed surprisingly evenly, and the mildew spores and pigments came up in rather painterly fashion. The seven I installed in the gallery space were mounted on wooden bases, making them read more as canvases, like all-over abstract expressionist paintings. They were hung around the peripheries of the gallery space, framed strategically among the architectural features and intersecting walls so they asserted a sense of belonging.

They have a grubbiness and a strong gothic presence of decay and earth, which is countered by their (subjective) beauty and the delicate finery of the tiny spore spots. They would exhibit comfortably alongside the bas-relief rubbing taken from Phra Bodhisattva Cave (which I posted from the National Museum in February); they share a similar worn, mottled aesthetic, while also both being a form of time capsule and a printed impression of the physical landscape.

A parallel can be seen between these works and the effect that living in a new city has on oneself. Initially, arriving in an unexplored city, even though you can adorn a new, clean, freeing garment of anonymity, the city seeps into your being and changes your outlook on the world, and yourself. After three months these works now wear the grime and heat and fumes of Bangkok, while I carry with me lessons and experiences, as well as memories, connections and love for new friends.

I hope this experimentation will lead to some promising projects in the future, but while I write this I am simply relieved to be nearing the end of such a sweaty sweaty month.

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The Dog Star Robbers

In Thailand, the Canis Major star, Sirius, is known by two names: Doa Ma Lap, The Sleeping Dog Star, and Dao Chon, The Robber Star. A baby born as Sirius rises in the sky has an increased likelihood of eventually, and unfortunately, becoming the member of a robber gang. The moment The Sleeping Dog Star rises, all street-dogs, house-dogs and watch-dogs descend into a deep sleep, creating the perfect opportunity for robbers, or khamoi, to burgle a property.

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This print was inspired by the Komainu, the temple guardian dogs, and also the two occasions I was attacked by some of the feral, alive-but-rotting street dogs in our local area, all in dire need of euthanisation. Most have external abscesses, festering cuts, ticks, and matted fur. They lurk under cars, sleep in the gutters and suspiciously eye those passing by. I hold limited affection for these creatures, but they seem loved by the locals.

The Groggy Morning After

The exhibition opening is over and I can breathe freely and enjoy fully my final week in this mad city I have grown disconcertingly fond of.

I am relieved and exhausted and quite satisfied. Five hours’ sleep was all my body allowed me, so I am up on the rooftop in the early morning while the city below stumbles awake in the warming, prickly air. My only immediate company are the sulky black crows perched on the surrounding clusters of spiked aerials, occasionally hopping and bobbing from one jagged spoke to another.

The exhibition opening was supposed to start at 6.30pm, but it was a sleepy affair until 9pm, which is when crowds of people properly filled the space. Everyone dispersed, eventually, after 11pm, having polished off a crate of Thai whisky.

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My evening was predominantly spent in two types of conversation:
The intense, overly-personal kind with the impassioned young liberal arts graduates, living abroad and embroiled in self-absorbed, inconsequential, existential issues: “Do you feel your privileged position has created a romanticised and warped view of Thai life?” “What are the parallels between a Buddhist community versus a Christian community?” “How has this experience changed the way you will [live your entire life]?” Uh…

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And the other, easier kind of conversation, which is mostly shallow, surface talk: explaining my process, materials, technique, installation, the residency setup, my previous study and projects, things I have seen, places I’ve gone, and what I will be doing with my remaining ten days; simple answers for simple questions. Provided there is a balance between the two, I thoroughly enjoy both kinds of discussion. Thank you very much to Om, who was a master translator and buffer!

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A lot of young French people turned up (because the French are everywhere!) and we went out for a late dinner afterwards. Harry Trotter, the magical, Belgian wild-man, made an appreciated, timely appearance and we escaped for a midnight stroll and drink in the night-time market.

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I'll put some details of the images up in a few hours, but for now, here are the installation photographs. Today, I think, I will rest.

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The Lull Before the Storm

Locking Antlers with the Clouds opens in an hour and a half. So far today I have slept in (comparatively to other mornings), cleaned my room, done all my washing, gone to the gym, showered, taken a stroll, chatted with the new art resident, cut my nails, and achieved nothing of importance, substance or purpose.

Gratefully, my primary responsibility for this exhibition, was to make the work.Om, the wonderful curatorial assistant, has arranged all the cleaning, food, drinks, music, and wrangling of people who apparently want to attend.

In preparation for a solo exhibition in 2014, I didn’t sleep for three days leading up to the opening while I immersed myself in a panicked, last-minute fury to finish the prints for the show. I had had three months notice to create a body of work, which was a cruelly short amount of time for the intense, detailed pieces I was desperately determined to create.

The production process was fraught with difficulties as I struggled in my dirty, damp, winter, Dunedin studio. My life descended into squalor as my printing press (located on a separate floor), makeshift exposure machine (held together with masking tape) and work-flow (what work-flow?) all rebelled against me. Intermittently, a (very tolerant) rock band, with whom I shared my studio space, would turn up for rehearsals.

At the end of a three-day printmaking binge, the tail-end of three months of 100-hour weeks, I drove to the gallery in Christchurch in my warrant-less, registration-less car, stopping periodically to swap-out the newsprint swaddling each of the prints in an attempt to dry the damp paper. After a rushed installation and a hazy, alcohol-infused, sleep-deprived opening, I ended the evening in hospital looking after a bedraggled friend who fell victim to a chronic nose bleed, bleeding out on the footpath in front of the gallery until an ambulance was called. I had quit my job to produce that exhibition and the sheer exertion of energy and soul drained me of...everything.

Needless to say, in comparison, this Bangkok exhibition has been a blissful dream. Admittedly, I have worked many late nights, poured an overdraft of energy into crafting the images, but the calm and peace I am currently experiencing is very refreshing. Perhaps this is what it is supposed to feel like, to be a professional artist.

Photos of the show will be up tomorrow.

Songkran

I have survived Songkran! Songkran is a three-day, nation-wide water fight celebrating the Thai New Year. The themes of Songkran are similar to those of Easter, of transformation and new beginnings; everyone is doused in water to symbolise purification and the cleansing of sins and bad luck. It is a communal affair during which no one is safe (at any time) from a bucket of icy cold water! 

This first image is of my friend Nieves, who joined me in Khao San today. The second is a relief print from my exhibition next week.

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Blue Bangkok

I took this photograph in Berlin and it illustrates a little how I feel today.

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I’m in Bangkok, this crazy city of beautiful things and Thai goodness, and I’m hunched over absorbed in my laptop, wasting my opportunity to experience it all.

Perhaps I should go out tonight. Is that really a good idea?

Ok. I’ve convinced myself. Tonight, I'm going to become more like this girl in the orange hoody. She has attitude. 

Locking Antlers...

This is the invitation to my exhibition in Bangkok!
 

I have emerged from the depths of experimentation and development (and despair), creating some images I’m relatively proud of. I have finally eased into a pleasurable, creative momentum that has arrived just in time really; my exhibition is in two weeks. Thanks to those thoughtful, encouraging friends who have been emailing, and also Harry, the footloose, comical vagabond, for injecting some unexpected, feral energy into the last seven days. 

This week I am attending an exhibition opening at the National Gallery, receiving my order of gorgeous, silky Awagami paper, and am off to the Ambassador’s for a dinner party. 

Life is splendid and my heart is singing. Expect to hear more from me this month.

MOCA: Museum of Contemporary Art

Last month I made a trip to MOCA in the north of Bangkok. It was a mission to find, and although we got on the right bus, the driver didn't believe us that we knew where we were going - it seems MOCA isn't overly well known in Bangkok, even though it puts the National Gallery of Thailand to shame.

MOCA is a privately owned museum, similar to MONA in Hobart, Tasmania, where the collection seems to be a reflection of the personal taste of the museum owner, who has a much more focused taste compared to the more politically correct, ‘egalitarian’, nationally funded galleries. The owner, in this instance, is Boonchai Bencharongkul, the founding owner of DTAC, Thailand's second-largest mobile telephone company.  

Here is a brief profile about the man. 

The prevalent theme in MOCA is the intense devotion to Buddhism and Buddhist Mythology. I am unsure of whether this collection is an accurate summation of a general trend in young Thai artists to produce this sort of work, or the result of a particular inclination by Boonchai Bencharongkul to promote and assist artists exploring Buddhist ideas.

There is an obsessive attention to detail in all the works, and a lot of subversion of Buddhist imagery, like Prateep Khotchabua (below). For some reason the experience of all these paintings made my interest in Thai mythological wane, or more accurately, overload. Upon reflection is could be the explicit nature of the imagery, which lacks nuance, mystery, restraint and subtlety. Or perhaps, it is was due to the overwhelming sickly density of so many jostling figurative narratives. The experience is akin to the sensation of listening to multiple songs simultaneously, all fighting for contention within a confined space. Annabelle, who was pregnant at the time, found it dizzying and would frequently have to sit down to regain herself.

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If one was to visit the National collection in New Zealand, Te Papa, you could be mistaken for thinking New Zealanders value and worship the land above all else (as opposed to Buddhist beliefs), judging by the disproportionate number of landscape paintings and photographs found in our lack-lustre 'Art Wing'. I was pondering this evident contrast between our two cultures as I fled from the paintings down a hall of photography and was confronted by a photograph of the Waiau Lodge Hotel. This hotel is from the small logging town of Tuatapere in Southland, not too far from my old High School. The accompanying caption read, “(and smoke from our dinner...only)“. My assumption is that this caption is referring to how the photographer and their company were the only guests in the hotel, which would probably be accurate. It was a surreal mixing of worlds, giving me the same feeling of unease and displacement as the hundreds of mythological paintings I had just escaped. 

The MOCA experience has marked itself as one my art highlights in Bangkok, mainly because access to contemporary artworks has otherwise been difficult. Here, in one massive building, is an overwhelming (I've used that word about four times, but it is only one truly fitting!) collection of the some of the most disturbing paintings in Thailand. The entire visit was quite strange and has emblazoned itself upon my memory.

East Wind, West Wind

During an impassioned theological debate last week with my Tunisian friend, Sami, enriched by a couple of Heinekens and proceeded by a raucous drag queen show, I was reminded of my time in Florence. Having spent weeks steeping in the glories of renaissance splendour, I encountered a moment that caught my critical defences off guard. The potent memory now serves as a personal reminder of the transcending power of art.

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In the late afternoon I was exploring Forte Belvedere, a fortress situated at the top of the Boboli gardens in Florence. The fortress hunkers in a strategic vantage point overlooking the whole city; the Duomo basking in the glow of the melting sun, the glistening Arno river, and the olive groves and palazzos on the surrounding hillside. The air was sweet and delicious, and I was in a blissful stupor from over-indulging in Florentine grandeur.

In a small, stone room on the top floor of the empty fortress, the low sun spilled through a window from the west, cascading onto two mirror-finished sculptures on a plinth, whose surface shattered the sun’s rays into an explosion of fragmented light, splattering shards and arcs of sunlight around the walls and ceiling. The reflective sculptures were of the upper body of Jesus, and astonishingly (remember, this is Florence), a cross-legged Buddha, each positioned facing each other at eye level.

The artwork was called East Wind and West Wind, by Zhang Huan, a famous Chinese artist. The body of Jesus had his hands outstretched in the manner of Christian iconography and the Buddha demonstrated the complimentary pose of Abhayamudrā, meaning, ‘no fear’.

In a stroke of curatorial genius, the activating element in this artwork was the sun, a third character whose presence seemed to transform the dual-like face-off into a unifying, balanced ‘blessing’. Upon stepping into the humble, quiet room I fell under the glinting, glistening spell of both figures, almost indistinguishable from each other under the transcending, striking power of the sun. The installation created a reverent, respectful, affecting acknowledgement of two vastly different worlds. It seemed a simple illustration highlighting the likenesses and differences, the beauties and uniqueness, between Eastern and Western religions; a powerful stirring of an eastern wind and a western wind.

Drawing Fatigue

In Dunedin, when I was bored or tired, or stuck in the midst of a drawing, I would go and visit my neighbours. Yep, I’m the guy who just ‘drops by’. Missing Jo and Jared and Hana today. With the impending season premier of Game of Thrones next month, who am I going to watch it with? – it just won’t be the same without you and your Leisure Den.

This image is for you. They are my spotted doves, in progress, with their winged lashes.

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Drawing Process

At the moment I am working with a cyclical method of developing my images. The image goes through my hand, onto the paper, into the computer, traced back on the paper, and is then re-drawn and edited, before going back into the computer. This is what it looks like, my dark room and my process. I’m working on the spotted doves the from the other day.

Au Revoir, Annabelle

Today I relinquished my hold on this French-Italian-Danish beauty*. Bangkok and I have been abandoned in favour of fair France…and an eagerly awaiting husband. This talented lass has become a great friend and I’m going to miss her very much. 

*Annabelle is now pretty darn pregnant (by her husband) and is going to make a wonderful mother.