Juggling artistry and commerce, a young Thai artist/gallerist switches
between prodigy and productivity.
Few artists can straddle upon dual roles of artistry and commerce. Angkrit Ajchariyasophon switches his hats from artist to art dealer with aplomb because of his deep understanding of the inner workings of artists’ physics and psyche.
Born in Chiang Rai in 1976, Angkrit always liked drawing. He recalls, “I was fortunate to live near Thawan Duchanee’s (a late National Artist) house and in the class with his son, Doithibet. Uncle Thawan has a unique personal style. When we were about to take the university entrance exam, he as well his assistant taught us to draw and some backgrounds in art history from ancient civilisations.”
Angkrit continues, “I learned a lot from Ajarn Thawan, but in Chiang Mai University, I questioned other aesthetic styles and media usage like conceptual and installation art by artists like Montien Boonma and Mit Jai Inn. After graduation in 2000, I became a full-time artist and also worked at my family restaurant. I started to show at an exhibition organised by Kamin Lertchaiprasert. My styles vary a lot because I like experimenting. I don’t want to imitate nature like painting landscapes. I prefer to seek the truth within—in our humanity and in abstract forms.”
On abstraction, he clarifies, “My college roommate likes meditation, which I didn’t understand. I learned it and became interested in abstract works and portraits. Art has two realms: physical and spiritual—outside and inside. I create art for both conceptual and social commentary purposes, so I also have two aspects. I have to interact with people when I work at the restaurant. I converse and gain energy from them. But then I get to be introspective when I work on self-portraits and abstract art. I regain balance when I understand myself more in both physical and spiritual realms. I enjoy working with my own hands and mental capacity, not hiring someone else to do my job.”
Some of Angkrit’s most recognisable works are his self-portraits. Questioning about northern villagers’ crafts and their duplicates, he used wooden sculptures of animals and placed his own faces upon them. He explains, “I changed these crafted pieces to make them unlike one another. Self-portraits make us reflect ourselves. In Buddhism, it’s about self-awareness, deep emotions, senses, and equanimity. I contemplate, meditate, observe, record, and keep my own thoughts. Later these paintings of abstract lines help calm and clear my mind like pathways where monks practice their walking meditation.”
In Bangkok Biennial 2018, Angkrit exhibited two different series. One shows an ensemble of red flags, a socio-political commentary on his feelings after the coup d’état. He articulates, “Without freedom, art cannot be expressed. If artists who are among the leaders in intellect and ideas in our society aren’t brave enough to voice their views, then how can others? So it’s my way to convey as an individual instead of protesting in the crowd.”
On the opposite wall, a large canvas of rainbow colours juxtaposes what God promised to Noah in Genesis. However, the spectrum has an alternate meaning in Angkrit’s language. He shares, “Different colours represent perspectives of truth. Through a prism, clear light gives a spectrum of the rainbow. Clarity is the truth that one can’t see and we only see one side of it. Faiths and beliefs can shift, and change and truth comes in different shades, not black and white. I have friends from diverse ideologies, but I see humans rather than partisans. I see them as friends without believing in the same thing. In my series ‘Shades of Red,’ red hues from 100-baht banknotes provide a plurality of tones. So from dissimilar perspectives, angles, and depths, we interpret different things. Like asking the blind to feel up an elephant, none can feel or see the whole picture, but only parts of the truth.”
In 2008 Angkrit founded an eponymous gallery in Chiang Rai, starting with an exhibition for his friend, Uten Mahamid. Then in 2016, he decided to open the ARTIST+RUN Gallery in Bangkok to show carefully-curated contemporary works from older and younger generations of artists. He comments, “I want this to be a commercial gallery with good art for inspiration and benefits, to fulfil our society and our inner psyche. In Thailand’s art world, there are no particular systems and still many missing links. With many good artists, we lack good representatives, galleries, and middlemen. Our culture should make viewing modern and visual art more approachable.”
Angkrit concludes, “I want the public to open their mind. Art isn’t difficult to understand. It’s fantastic to have big art exhibitions like Bangkok Art Biennale and others in one year to boost energy and stimulation, but we need sustainability and momentum as well. Then we need more education, publications, media, and archiving for future research among students and curators. I am serious about how to bridge art and our livelihood.”