More than an art gallery ...
1973, Bangkok, Thailand.
B.F.A. in Painting, Silpakorn University, Bangkok, Thailand
Tawan Wattuya has emerged as a very significant force on the Thai contemporary art scene since his first exhibition of paintings in 2000. His Art is provocative as he aims to directly challenge conventional understandings of the society he lives in.
His work explores and questions the appearance of different Thai social groups. Basing his paintings on found imagery, Wattuya focuses on posed gatherings of people at events evoking a sense of social order, such as weddings, political happenings, beauty competitions or student groups. The artist then strips the figures of their clothes and often the results suggest something far more ribald than the original images could have intended. At issue is a critical approach to the importance of appearances in Thai society. He aims to confront the significance of social status shown by the uniform worn by these people. He searches for Thailand’s hidden faces underneath ideals of social identity.
Wattuya started to explore the question of Thai social identities in his first solo exhibition, Japanese and European (2000), where he criticized the fascination of Thai teens for Japanese and Korean pop culture. His exhibition "500" (2005), consiting of 500 watercolor portraits of the former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, marked the beginning of Wattuya’s political engagement.
In 2007 he proposed a particularly provocative vision of Thai society with the exhibition "Siamese Freaks", portraying Thai political figures and Pop-stars as monstrous figures. Here politicians were portrayed on the same level as TV personalities and porn stars.
In a collaborative exhibition with the sculptor Haritorn Akarapat in 2008, titled The Inner I, he used street dogs to satirize his compatriots. By imbuing stray dogs with characteristics such as pride, contentment and erotic zeal, Wattuya once again succeeded in deconstructing Thai social identities in terms of a sophisticated and deeply critical irony.
Wattuya held a two-person show with the photographer Tada Varich, titled Story of the Eye (2009), where themes of sexuality and censorship were explored. Prudishness in Thai society was effectively lampooned.
Wattuya is on the cusp of artistic maturity with his current paintings. These artworks are a profound exploration of the human condition as the artist raises questions that crucially threaten the uniformity pervasive in his own society. How can one person express freely himself against the terms of social conditioning, and ultimately emerge free from the tyranny of identity?
Tawan’s interest in portraiture has been consistent throughout his career and he persistently seeks new ways to address this genre and his themes. As mentioned, Tawan began with expressionistic close-ups of faces. His self-portraits follow the same approach and even if we recognize the artist we memorize the sense of expression above all.
Most of his portraits are like photo-booth images because the face takes over all the space. However, these paintings are too expressive to be merely ID images. Tawan encourages us to participate and share emotion, as witnesses to his creative process. For example, his series of 500 portraits of Taksin Shinawatra and 300 Women appear as endless digressions on a theme.
In the former, the ex-PM of Thailand’s visage is reproduced to the point of saturation and we may now paradoxically forget the subject. Tawan is a strong critic of a society flooded by images and politicians’ obsession with appearances.
We find a similar sensibility in the series 300 Women because of the sense of anonymity that ultimately emerges from the sheer quantity of paintings. Tawan uses portraiture in a cynical way. A unique representation produces an immediate recognition but when displayed excessively that recognition is destroyed. Like Andy Warhol’s famous use of repetition for images for Hollywood stars, a duality is at work that straddles difference and non-difference.
Tawan Wattuya’s artworks demonstrate a fine sense of observation that dovetails with an acute of analysis of aspects of contemporary society. He is like a scientist exploring manifold aspects of his subject. Portraiture is a thread in his oeuvre and he develops his interests in a way that is analogous to the exposition of a theory.
Most recently, Tawan’s sense of painterly form has matured through the use of watercolour, which he uses in terms of contemporary pattern and as a tool of provocation. This connection between form and subject matter creates a global expression that is both unique and promising.